Friday, December 11, 2009

More "Carmen" - this time from La Scala

I had the opportunity to attend the La Scala, Milan performance of “Carmen” last Monday. This was a live broadcast similar to the Met HD broadcasts. Amazingly I have to say that the transmission and movie experience was overall much better than the Met broadcasts. I don’t know why that should be, but the Met broadcasts seem to be constantly plagued by sunspot outages. The theater we were at on Monday also seemed to have a much better sense of how to set the sound. I love the Met broadcasts, but the broadcast problems can be very frustrating, so it was nice to get through an entire performance with no broadcast problems.

The performance was overall very good. I thought the singing was excellent. Jonas Kaufmann was an outstanding Don Jose and I really liked Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen. The rest of the cast was outstanding – special mention to Escamillo – Erwin Schrott. His cocky, arrogant, self-assured Escamillo, not to mention his powerful beautiful voice, made every one of his scenes sparkle. Daniel Baremboim conducted and the tempos seemed slow to me at times, but on the other hand the orchestra played brilliantly. I know I have a soft spot for woodwinds – but the La Scala orchestra woodwind section was top notch. I loved their musical and colorful playing.

I wish I could say that the staging was equally brilliant, but I found some of it very perplexing. Now, I had just seen the Frankfurt “Carmen” which I found really off the wall. This production was much more faithful to the score. But even so there were some odd things. First the positive: I loved Jonas Kaufmann’s naïve, small town boy overwhelmed by events approach to Don Jose. I also liked Rolando Villazon’s psychotic Don Jose (Frankfurt). Both approaches worked for me. I guess the Villazon approach makes more sense of the final murder, but Kaufmann was an effective Jose. I loved Carmen. She was very sexy and erotic, without it being forced or over the top. Her 2nd act scene with Jose was a highlight for me of her performance. I could feel the struggle that Jose had trying to force himself to get away from this woman – unfortunately for him he fails.

Another highlight of this production – the knife fight. Escamillo was magnificent. I loved his cocky arrogance. Heck – this guy makes his living fighting like this – of course he was going to kick Jose’s butt. The only way Jose could possibly win is by cheating. The fight as a whole was choreographed almost like a bull fight – but not as blatent as Frankfurt’s finale (which I thought was silly). In the La Scala production Escamillo just uses his skill as a bull fighter and Jose doesn’t stand a chance. It was great. I loved this scene and I loved this singer. I want to hear more of him.

The chorus was great. Some of the dancer/extra stage business worked well. The cigarette girl break is an example, and all of the big chorus moments were stunning. The smugglers were a bit Abbott and Costello, but it was ok. I liked Zuniga very much vocally as well, though he was a little too nice. The Frankfurt Zuniga had a cruel streak which I thought worked pretty better. Let’s face it Zuniga is not a good guy.

Now the weirdness. I suppose you, faithful readers, have noticed that I have not yet mentioned the Michaela. The role was sung by Adriana Damato. Vocally she was good. But unfortunately most of the production weirdness was centered around Michaela, which totally distracted away from her singing. During the 1st act duet her black dress turned into a wedding dress and she mimed-fantasized getting married. And in Act III as she delivered her message to Jose she morphed into the dying mother, complete with oversized bedspread and pillow. It was odd. Also, what was up with the non-singing little boys who were running all over the place in their underwear during the children’s chorus. Also, I did not get the plastic body parts which were in abundance during the opening of Act IV.

On the whole I enjoyed the production, I loved the singing. It was a great day at the opera. One last comment. I know that La Scala is famous for booing and, not surprising, there were plenty of boos for the production team. I thought that was uncalled for. Maybe these booers should find a video of the Frankfurt “Carmen” and compare and then be thankful. Yes there were some odd moments, but on the whole it was a good production. Let us not forget that as good an actor as the cast may be individually, it is the stage director who shapes their role interpretation and the cast interaction and in that area she did a great job. Finally, an extra bravo to Daniel Baremboim for being a professional and all around good guy for his support of the stage director during the curtain calls.

Here is a clip from the 1991 Covet Garden "Carmen" starring Maria Ewing. This is very traditional.

Here is Erwin Schrott singing "Aprite un po' quegli occhi" from Nozze di Figaro - Covent Garden, Feb. 2006


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