Top positive review
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A gripping production of a favourite opera and one of the best recent issues
on 8 November 2011
This Royal Opera production, in superb Blu-ray or DVD formats, features a darkly aggressive Carmen with mutual hatred and a desire to destroy brought out strongly. This approach is made far more effective by use of the spoken script as Bizet intended rather than the recitatives that replaced the script later and are still often used.
The opening scene rightly emphasises Don Jose's murderous past more strongly than usual prior to joining the army as his escape from the law with an opening stage sequel showing Don Jose being taken off to be executed. Early in the opera Don Jose informs his commanding officer of his violent past which led to his joining the army. This essential violence in Don Jose's character is matched by that of Carmen but not understood by her for its likely conclusion. Kaufmann's Don Jose is not a weak man but rather a dangerously unstable man.
Antonacci, in this production, portrays Carmen as an essentially dominant woman intent on controlling men through sexual availability in order to achieve conquest over them. This is not the same as being interested in having a serial sexual interest in men. There is no indication in this production that this Carmen actually enjoys either men or sexual relationships. This is simply a story about power and control with a strong undercurrent of latent violence which leads to its inevitable conclusion.
Both Kaufmann and Antonacci sing and act their respective parts well and convincingly. Kaufmann is especially impressive in this dark portrayal and one which his voice suits perfectly. His portrayal is of such an outstanding nature that Don Jose's character and decline has an equal dramatic weight to match those features of Carmen.
The supporting roles are also well done with a splendid and handsome Escamillo (D'arcangelo) making his first entrance on real horseback - a strongly egocentric and sexual conception and well sung so it is easy to see why Carmen would be attracted to such a man. The part of Michaela is also well portrayed although she is clearly no match for the attractions of Carmen. This is a difficult role to make attractive and Norah Amsellem makes a creditable job of it. The two lead gypsy girls are excellent in their roles and make a strong team with the gypsy men. The women of the chorus enter fully into the rather seedy spirit of their part of the production and this is particularly apparent in the opening tavern scene in Act 2 and in all the factory scenes in Act 1. The male chorus members make for convincing soldiers.
The setting is of the period and is very fully staged with lots of period detail and atmosphere. This relates not just to the staging but also to the costuming so this production could be summarised as an enhanced traditional production. The whole opera benefits from the drive generated by Pappano and his orchestra. Overall this is a grippingly vivid and destructive version based upon the mutual need to dominate.
The camera work is fully involving and enables the viewer to feel part of the action. The imaging is crisp with good colour rendition. The sound is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo.
In summary then, this production is likely to give much satisfaction and can offer a setting of the correct period and with a cast that can both sing and act well. The recording has good production values with excellent surround sound and good camera work. It takes its place among other recent fine issues such as those at Glyndebourne and The Met and personal preferences will be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing which to buy. All three listed above are equally fine in their differing ways. In my opinion this is a worthy 5 star issue and should give much musical and dramatic satisfaction to future purchasers.