Mike Ashman
Bizet: Carmen
Carmen keeps the traditionalists happy while Kaufmann shines as an edgy José
Anna Caterina Antonacci mez Carmen
Jonas Kaufmann ten. Don José
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo bar . Escamillo
Norah Amseliem sop Micaëla
Jacques Imbrailo bar Morales
Matthew Rose bass Zuniga
Elena Xanthoudakis sop Frasquita
Viktoria Vizin sop Mercédès
Jean-Sébastien Bou ten Dancaire
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt ten Remendado

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden I Antonio Pappano
Stage Director Francesca Zambello
Video DirectorJonathan Haswell

Decca ® DVD 074 331 2DH (152’ • NTSC • 16:9•PCM stereo, 5.1 and DTS 5.1 • 0)
Also available on Blu-Ray 074 331 3DH
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, London, In January 2007

‘While it’s a loss that no one has preserved on film the vital and challenging Carmen productions of Lucien Pintilie (Cardiff/Vancouver), David Pountney (ENO) or Calixto Bieito (Barcelona), traditionalists can relax with the Royal Opera’s Raymond Guhbay-style, grand-opera Carmen. Antonio Pappano uses a slightly bizarre edition of the score (some Guiraud recit in Act 1 after Carmen has thrown the flower, a weird two-thirds of the José/Escamillo duel, a cut at the start of Act 4) but he steers the music with panache and his customary ear for often buried detail (try the José/Carmen duet after the Flower Song) and dynamics.

The production has a star in Jonas Kaufmann’s José, a dangerous, lived-in interpretation of the part, sung and acted with a rare ability to encompass both the emotional delicacies of the duet with Micaëla and the neurotic heroics of the final acts. Antonacci’s Carmen works hard — she’s stylish and genuinely sexy, lacking only the last degree of “otherness” to make the lines about burning (Act 1) and dying free (final duet) really chill. Like her tenor, she parades excellent French. Norah Amsellem’s Micaëla is well vocalised and presented but never quite breaks through into a complete character. Elsewhere relative newcomers Jacques Imbrailo and Matthew Rose make a huge amount of the tricky comique roles of Morales and Zuniga, while Escamillo, the smugglers and their Carmen-ettes are efficient.

On stage no Spanish requisite is lacking. Every inhabitant of this Seville has an orange tan, a bolero hat, scarf or eyepatch and a cheroot dangling from his/her lips. There are animals — a donkey, chickens (chickens?), a horse for Escamillo — lusty cleavage aplently, and even the Virgin, or her candle-surrounded image, gets an appearance. Extras fill the stage at every opportunity, and smugglers think nothing of shedding all their outer clothing in mid-winter in the mountains in order to fight (or show off more cleavage). The replacing, and lighting, of steep walls in what is basically a unit set — the whole much enhanced by the subtlety of the camera direction — is ingenious in creating different locations but the production, for all its careful rehearsal, still looks much like any of the other stagings of Bizet’s flawed masterwork seen at Covent Garden during the past three decades.

The DVD of Carmen is issued in the UK on September 15; the Blu-ray disc on October 6

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