Triumph in Bizet's Masterpiece
Bizet's "Carmen" is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire and one that also possesses some of the most popular melodies in classical music.
On the night of Oct. 14, the Metropolitan Opera presented Bizet's work with a twist. The tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who was scheduled to perform Don Jose, cancelled due to illness and Brandon Jovanovich took over on short notice, even though he is currently rehearsing Shostakovich's extremely taxing work "Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk."
However, the originally scheduled Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili, sang, and she brought her customary lush voice to the role of the gypsy. It's hard to find a better singer who possesses all the qualities needed for Carmen. Not only does she have the correct voice, but she also the acting abilities and the fire for the role.
Rachvelishvili's Carmen is an interesting creature as she can seem cold and nonchalant in most moments, but at times she can express tenderness. This was best shown in Act 2 during Don Jose's (Jovanovich) aria "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee." Rachvelishvili seemed conflicted and moved by Don Jose's plea of love. However, once he finished his aria, she returned to her cold and manipulative Carmen, who uses her body to seduce.
In Act 1, when Carmen first arrives and sings her famous Habanera, Rachvelishvili walked around the stage with power and domination. She washed her coat in a bucket and later washed her legs. As she did so, she pulled her skirt up so all the men could see her voluptuous figure. Once she saw that she had caught their eye, she splashed them with water. It was a fine display of her seductive and unpredictable nature.
She went on to Zuniga (Keith Miller), the police officer, and took him by his jacket. Then she walked around peeling an orange and throwing the peels wherever she felt. Once she saw that she had all the men trapped, she moved on to Don Jose, who was not paying attention. There she took a flower and threw it at him.
If this first aria demonstrated her domination of men, the Seguedille brought the sexual intensity that is necessary for a seduction scene. Rachvelishvili opened her legs as an invitation for Jovanovich's Don Jose, followed him and when possible groped him sexually. When she had him almost where she wanted him, Rachvelishvili took his hands and brought them into her dress. By the time the aria climaxed, she put her legs around Jovanovich and he started to kiss her all over her body until he landed into her breasts. This scene couldn't have been more sexual and it was the wondrous example of what Carmen's seduction should be like.
However, as the relationship between Carmen and Don Jose starts to deteriorate, Rachvelishvili's sexual movements disappeared. Instead, her movement towards Jovanovich were cold and calculated. It seemed as all the passion that was seen at the beginning had disappeared. However, there was still an animalistic fierceness to this relationship, particularly in Act 3, during a confrontation with Don Jose. After Jovanovich grabbed her by her hair and neck, Rachvelishvili threw herself to the ground trying to beat him up. This brought out a harshness that was not seen by Carmen before.
In this production, Carmen is forced to dance a few numbers and Rachvelishvili danced with vigor and energy.
Vocally, the mezzo was in top form. After a few insecure top notes in the Habanera, she sang with power and it was almost impossible to take your eyes of her. She carries so much strength every time she sings. One of her best moments by far was at the end during the Act 4 duet "C'est Toi, C'est Moi." She brought all the power in her voice but by the end, when she gives him back a ring and says "Tiens," there was some resignation as if she knew her destiny.
Another vocal highlight was her card-reading scene in Act 3. During this moment, Carmen discovers that she will die by the hands of Don Jose. Here, Rachvelishvili sang with vulnerability, and the words "La Mort" had a dramatic emphasis which showcased her strong low range.
She also stood out in the Act 1 Seguedille. Rachvelishvili shaped each phrase with sensuality and made sure that when she had a crescendo there was some type of eroticism to the sound. There was a nice interplay between her full tone and her sneaky pianism mezza voce that added even greater sensuality to her singing.
As Don Jose, Jovanovich evolved his character from a timid soldier to a savage, explosive and desperate man. At the beginning, his Don Jose was almost a puppet who could be ordered by everyone. If Zuniga ordered him to march, he marched. When Micaela arrived, his attention was on her and when Carmen seduces him, he fell for all her tricks.
However, in Act 2, his character started to develop violent tendencies. When Zuniga attempts to rape Carmen, Jovanovich took a whole bunch of glasses off a table and threw them all over. In Acts 3 and 4, however, Jovanovich's desperation fell into madness. He grabbed Rachvelishvili's Carmen with viciousness and ran after her. At one moment in Act 3, he took her and threw her to the ground down a few steps. The effect was extremely suspenseful as the sounds of her falling only added to the intensity of the moment. This deterioration emphasized the tragedy of Don Jose more so than the ultimate death of Carmen.
Vocally Jovanovich sang with intensity. His "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" may not have been the most refined. Instead, he gave it a desperate feel with his fast tempo. It worked, especially once the audience sees the maniac and tragic figure his Don Jose becomes. He climaxed the aria with a beautiful B flat sung with a mezza voce as the score calls for.
Another memorable moment for Jovanovich was the Act 3 confrontation where he sang with vigor. It was haunting to see this singer bring out his full voice, and it created an intense and passionate moment. It only got better in the Act 4 duet. Every time his Don Jose said "Je t'aime," the intensity in his voice rose and eventually Jovanovich took to emoting rather than singing. The transformation was complete. If singing represents the soul of Don Jose, his erratic declamations expressed the fact that he had lost it completely.
In the role of Micaela, Anita Hartig threatened to steal the show with her silvery and plush voice. During her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante," Hartig sang with lush pianissmi and vigor, particularly in the B section of the aria. This gave the role of Micaela a strength most sopranos lack. Her duet with Jovanovich was also a highlight as both voices meshed and they brought out the youthfulness and innocence in their relationship.
As Escamillo, Massimo Cavalletti was in fine voice and he sang the Toreador song with liveliness. Jennifer Johnson Cano and Kiri Deonarine were both standouts as Carmen's friends Mercedes and Frasquita. They danced with Carmen and gave some comic relief to the proceedings, particularly in the card-reading scene where Carmen realizes her fate.
Keith Miller was formidable in the role of Zuniga, while Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey danced the Act 1 prelude and the Act 3 entr'acte with passion and intensity. Their dance was erotic but simultaneously exuded intimacy and tenderness.
In the pit, Pablo Heras-Casado conducted with brisk and energetic tempi. The orchestra never lost the strength and sense of propulsion and it made for a dramatic evening. One of Heras-Casado's best moments was the Act 3 entr'acte, in which the flutes started in a subtle piano and, as the piece developed, the strings grew in intensity. The opening prelude was also played with power but also with a Spanish flavor many conductors lack.
The chorus also stood out, particularly the women's chorus. When they first came out of the floor as staged in Richard Eyre's production they sang with a sensual tone that created the heat that the men were feeling as they sat down on the stage to smoke. They also stood out when they announce that Carmen and Manuelita get into a fight. The women sang with electricity.
Richard Eyre's production continues to marvel. The use of the turntable allows the action to move forward. His direction is also striking in that Carmen is always in the middle of something and in the blocking she is literally always trapped almost as if Eyre is foreshadowing her eventual murder. For instance, in Act 1 before Carmen escapes, she is between Zuniga and Don Jose. While she has manipulated both and seduced them, she is still subjugated to both of them. In Act 2, she is also subjected to Dancaire and Remendado's desires as well as Frasquita and Mercedes. Her loss of power is demonstrated at the end of Act 3 where she is all alone and Dancaire throws something at her.
The production also shows Carmen as if she is in a constant bullfight with Don Jose and it is beautifully represented at the end of the opera as the stage becomes the interior of a bullring.
The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon continues to be fresh, particularly the Act 2 song "Les triangles des sistres tintaient." The use of the flamenco dancers at the beginning before the music gives the overall piece energy.
Overall, the Met has put together an exceptional cast of singers and a great conductor that make for an absolutely enjoyable and powerful night.
Source: Metropolitan Opera