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Carmen Reinvented

06/22/2018 -  & June 29, July 6, 11, 17, 21, August 3, 9, 12, 22, 25, 28, 31, 2018
Georges Bizet: Carmen
Anna Goryachova*/Carmen Topciu/Géraldine Chauvet (Carmen), Mariangela Sicilia*/Ruth Iniesta/Serena Gamberoni/Eleonora Buratto (Micaela), Ruth Iniesta*/Barbara Massaro (Frasquita), Ariana Alexeeva*/Clarissa Leonardi (Mercédès), Brian Jagde*/Walter Fraccaro/Francesco Meli/Luciano Ganci (Don José), Alexander Vinogradov*/Gocha Abuladze/Erwin Schrott/Alberto Gazale (Escamillo), Davide Fersini*/Biagio Pizzuti (Le Dancaïre), Enrico Casari*/Roberto Covatta (Remendado), Luca Dall’Amico*/Gianluca Breda (Zuniga), Biagio Pizzuti*/Nicolò Ceriani/Gocha Abuladze (Moralès), Ballo dell’Arena di Verona
Coro di voci bianche A.LI.VE., Paolo Facincani (Chorus Master), Coro dell’Arena di Verona, Vito Lombardi (Chorus Master), Orchestra dell’Arena di Verona, Francesco Ivan Ciampa (Conductor)
Hugo de Ana (Stage Director, Sets & Costumes), Leda Lojodice (Choreography), Paolo Mazzon (Lighting), Sergio Metalli (Projection Design)

A. Goryachova, B. Jagde (© Foto Ennevi/Fondazione Arena di Verona)

It’s easy to skip large-scale operatic productions aimed at the general public, produced for tourists with a limited interest in opera and whose main objective in securing tickets is a night of entertainment, and perhaps a few selfies in front of the theater prior to curtain time, along with a crisp chablis. There is much to admire in such adventurousness, because initial experiences can often be life-changing; I am proof of this! While “innovative” productions that stray from the story line and eschew straightforward enjoyment can sometimes excite the more jaded spectator, they rarely transform newcomers into committed opera lovers.

It is a true achievement to stage a production that can work on more than one level: as a large-scale production for the general public as well as a thoughtfully provocative staging for connaisseurs. This came as no surprise, as the stage director was none other than Hugo de Ana. The setting remained in Seville, but the era was moved from the mid-nineteenth century to 1930 during Holy Week, a crucial time in Andalusia when passions soared. An air of military oppression was conveyed throughout the opera through brutishly rowdy soldiers, military vehicles and a fearful civilian population. The orchestral prelude to the first act was the backdrop for an execution of a rebel by firing squad, where the moment of the shooting cleverly coincided with the abrupt ending of the prelude. In a picturesque tableau, the children’s chorus sang “Avec la garde montante” accompanied by nuns, albeit with heavy Italian accents. A characteristic of this staging was ending scenes with tableaux that evoked street scenes by Goya.

Carmen’s entrance had the right dose of coquettish nuance, instead of the often depicted lewdness. Given Don José’s background and character in the opera or in Mérimée’s novella on which the opera is based, he would not have been drawn to the harlot that many stage directors tend to choose for Carmen. This Carmen is a flirtatious feline whose most salient sin is effrontery. Initially, Anna Goryachova’s timbre was not too appealing, but as the voice warmed up it was clear that hers is a rich mezzo, with a deep contralto timbre and a wide range. Indeed, the Habanera comes too soon before Carmen has had the time to warm up. But by the time she sang “Près des remparts de Séville,” Goryachova was fully transformed into Carmen. Charming and appropriate props were used throughout the opera such as Micaëla’s arrival on a bicycle, and Carmen’s escape in a military vehicle, stolen by her accomplices from under the noses of the military. Another impressive aspect of this production was de Ana’s astute crowd management; at various moments, the Arena’s huge stage was overflowing with people, yet they moved stylishly, and it was visually appealing.

Act II opened with brilliant choreography, where the women danced flamenco while the men’s more stylized movements resembled a tango, revealing choreographer Leda Lojodice’s understanding of the tango’s flamenco origins. Escamillo’s majestic entrance on horseback thrilled the audience. Alexander Vinogradov was an ideal Escamillo both vocally and dramatically, despite his less than ideal French diction. In contrast, Goryachova’s diction was deliciously wicked in lines such as “il est permis d’attendre et il est doux d’espérer.” Unfortunately, the tempo in the splendid quintet “Nous avons en tête une affaire” was too slow. The fact that the three women were cooking a meal could have been distracting, but it seemed natural and was amusing. Brian Jagde proved an ideal Don José, with great stage presence, a supple, virile voice and amazingly good French diction. He managed to impress with his phrasing, and faithfully produced the pianissimo B flat at the end of “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée.”

The third act was the least appealing visually with a harsh frontier resembling the West Bank’s with Israel. Cage-like structures and long queues increased the Angst, perhaps unnecessarily. The Card Scene, “Coupons, jouons,” was well sung but not dramatic enough due to the crowded sets and distractions on stage. Likewise for Micaëla’s aria, “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante,” the disturbing sets both increased the tension of the aria yet distracted. Mariangela Sicilia’s beautiful lyric soprano did the aria justice. The fourth and last Act was impressive in its use of video to transform the unused section of the arena behind the stage into the corrida’s stalls. Dramatic tension was marvellously raised to paroxysm only a stage director such as Hugo de Ana could conjure. The music of this short act is divided into choral singing and two duets: a short recitative-like parlando between Carmen and her new lover the toreador Escamillo, and the long final duet between Carmen and the now dejected deserter Don José. During the lively choral passage, Terpsichore reigns supreme and a stylized choreography of picadors and toreadors augur the tension to come. All dancers and onstage spectators at the corrida froze like statues during the duets. This motionless energy amplified the tension, allowing for a magnificently understated final confrontation, mercifully devoid of the typical histrionics that characterize most stagings of this essential opera. This was perhaps the most subtly underplayed yet most convincing Carmen death scene I’ve ever witnessed.

Ossama el Naggar



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