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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Carmen at L'Opéra Bastille

    Today 7/16/2017 the last show of the Opéra National de Paris season was broadcast by Culture Box live from L'Opéra Bastille, in HD and French subtitles

    Carmen,
    opéra-comique in four acts (1875), sung in French, music by Maurice Bizet, Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy

    Orchestre et Chœurs de l’Opéra National de Paris, conducted by Mark Elder
    Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine / Chœur d’enfants de l’Opéra National de Paris, Chorus master José Luis Basso
    Stage director Calixto Bieito
    Set Design Alfons Flores
    Lighting Design Alberto Rodríguez Vega
    Costume Design Mercè Paloma

    Cast

    Elina Garanca (title role)
    Roberto Alagna (Don José)
    Ildar Abdrazakov (Escamillo)
    Maria Agresta (Micaëla)
    Vannina Santoni (Frasquita)
    Antoinette Dennefeld (Mercédès)
    Boris Grappe (Le Dancaïde)
    François Rougier (Le Remendado)
    François Lis (Zuniga)
    Jean-Luc Ballestra (Moralès)

    This is a revival of the famous Bieito production that has been everywhere in Europe but I had never seen it. Bieito explains that he did not want his Carmen to be a femme fatale but just a regular woman, and he wanted her less defiant and not contributing to her murder at the end, but rather afraid and trying to survive. He did achieve this impression because I thought so before I read his interview on the opera company's website. It is a stark production, updated to current times, with the first act simply having a flag pole and a phone booth. The second and third acts don't have the usual sets but rather happen around various cars parked on stage. The last act simply has a bare stage with an ovoid space drawn in chalk. Costumes are casual modern clothing with the ladies dressed in a rather vulgar manner with lots of over-the-top make-up, and showing a lot of skin. The third act starts with a male completely naked, parading on stage for a couple of minutes.

    To tell you the truth I don't see what the fuss is all about. I find this production rather bland, reducing the meaning of the scenes rather than enhancing them. I usually like minimalism but this was too much reduction. It's sort of the anti-staging where none of the usual devices are employed - for example, the children chorus does not march on stage like the music asks for - they simply stand there. The Toreador Song doesn't come with any torero moves but rather features Escamillon wearing a suit and tie and simply singing the aria. Yeah, sure, Bieito said he wanted a different Carmen and he got that, but what's the point?

    This attempt to take away from Carmen her traits of femme fatale made for a character that is not that much fun. She barely smiles. She barely flirts. She isn't particularly sexy (and trying to make of gorgeous-looking Elina Garanca a non-sexy woman is quite an accomplishment). She seems just annoyed and angry most of the time. Come again, Mr. Bieito, why exactly is it important to strip Carmen off of her personality?

    The production does away with huge chunks of the recitative, decreasing the poetic impact of the narration. Of course we seasoned opera lovers know the plot so well to the point of remembering the whole dialogue by heart so we don't need it, but a young person approaching Carmen for the first time will miss some stuff.

    Blocking is very elementary. The male chorus tries some moves but that's about it. Most of the rest doesn't get much movement and there are no dances. Lighting is, well, dark.

    So, did I like the production? Not really. I thought it didn't add anything to the opera; it rather subtracted a lot.

    Let's talk about the musical aspects, then. Unlike my last experience live at Opéra Bastille precisely one year ago when I attended the last show of the season in person over there (Aïda) this time I liked the orchestra a lot, as well as the conducting. I had serious concerns regarding the orchestra in that Aïda. But hey, this is French opera so we are at home, and the musicians played the score very well. The chorus, on the other hand, is way inferior to the one at the Met.

    Elina sang beautifully and was hands down the high point of the show. The poor woman couldn't unleash all her charm given that it is not what Bieito wanted, but her voice was in great shape as usual. Roberto on the other hand, while correct, seemed a bit bored (like I said, this production is bland) and did not show the same passion I admired when I last saw him live at the Met in the same role. Ildar was outstanding. His Toreador Song was beautiful and might become my favorite current version, if I can save a clip of it (I hope someone posts it to YouTube). Maria on the other hand was not a compelling Micaëla - started very cold, did improve a little, but never really soared. Vanina and Antoinette were very good Frasquita and Mercédès, but the other comprimarios were several notches down.

    It is hard to refrain from comparing this show to the Met production that keeps being revived too, and often has the same artists. I find the Met version vastly superior in almost all aspects. The one part that I hadn't seen as good at the Met was the bass role - like I said this was the best Escamillo in a long time. I last saw the Met production with Ailyn Pérez as Micaëla, and oh boy, she is so much better than Maria Agresta! Elina and Roberto did well at Opéra Bastille but they did even better at the Met. Sets, costumes, blocking, lighting, chorus, and the general feeling of the show were all points where the Met scored higher.

    This show was better than the disastrous Aïda that I saw in Paris last year, and the downsides were the fault of the director more than that of the opera company, but hey, beating that Aïda isn't that difficult, so I'm not sure if my opinion of the Opéra National de Paris has improved a lot, after seeing this. But at least, this show was coherent, musically OK, and the directorial concept, if bland, wasn't all over the place. Overall, B.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 18th, 2017 at 12:08 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Some screen caps:









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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Attached Images Attached Images        
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    I remember reading/watching an interview with Elina Garanca at some point, where she spoke of how the most important parts of Carmen (her passion, her strength, her desire for freedom) can be found not only in a Spanish gypsy, but in women everywhere and how she hopes that someone will eventually permit her to do Carmen with her own hair, instead of a brunette wig. Glad to see this has happened!

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    It seems like a totally different production from the one I saw. Maybe the difference between seeing in person and watching on screen, but equally likely the result of the cast leads having some sort of chemistry. I wasn't that crazy about Elina Garanca's performance at the Met - she sings wonderfully, but her acting, to my eye, isn't all that convincing.

    Too bad they chose the evening featuring the marquee names to televise and not the ones with stage chemistry.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dichteurehalle View Post
    I remember reading/watching an interview with Elina Garanca at some point, where she spoke of how the most important parts of Carmen (her passion, her strength, her desire for freedom) can be found not only in a Spanish gypsy, but in women everywhere and how she hopes that someone will eventually permit her to do Carmen with her own hair, instead of a brunette wig. Glad to see this has happened!
    Yes, actually I liked this part, and forgot to mention it in my review. I liked that Elina didn't have a wig. She looked gorgeous as usual, with her blonde hair. The problem is, Calixto made her too serious and somber, so the larger-than-life character we love got lost. The same artist, the same Elina at the Met was much more lively.

    This is just my standpoint; maybe others liked the fact that Carmen was a more normal woman. But me, I like my Carmen spicy. Sure, most people put on stage spicy Carmens but maybe it is for a reason.

    Certainly this was a different Carmen. Like I said certainly Calixto got what he wanted. I'm just not sure if what he wanted actually added to the quality of the opera, or subtracted from it. For me it was the latter. Others may feel that it was the former, and I wouldn't fault them for that.

    This somber, no-fun, annoyed, angry Carmen (her first scene, she is talking to someone on the phone from the phone boot, and she seems to be very annoyed and yelling at the person on the other side of the line; that mood/affect tonality remains throughout the opera), I didn't really feel that men would fall in love with her right and left. Sure, she is pretty, but she doesn't seem very nice or lots of fun, and beauty is not all, in matters of attractiveness and sex appeal.

    And thinking about a metalanguage here, this is interesting because in real life I have a crush on Elina. Jim knows (he was with me) that she completely bewitched us when we met her in person and chatted with her for one hour. What a goddess! There aren't too many women on Earth who are more attractive than Elina Garanca, in person, with her beauty, wit, assertiveness, poise, elegance, sharp intelligence, agile mind... So, knowing that I was looking at Elina and listening to her gorgeous voice, and still, not feeling attracted, was weird. Hehehe, I blame Mr. Bieito for it.

    See, I don't mind Regie at all (when it's good). Last summer I saw a Così fan Tutte in Aix that was also updated, somber, bleak, and concept-heavy - but it was deep and thoughtful, with a variety of issues being touched by the stage director, and I found it maybe the best one I've ever seen (and far superior to almost all traditional stagings of this opera I've seen - although of course the Glyndebourne one is hard to beat), while here I found this production to be bland and repetitious - OK, they are all common people, they dress a bit vulgar and casually, they hang on around cars and among a lot of trash, sure. The men get gross gestures, grabbing their crotches all the time, dry-humping the women. We get it. And then there is more of the same. And next there is more of the same. Oh, and throw in a completely naked male too, just for good measure.

    Looking at this production, my reaction was not one of saying "wow, this is a brilliant director" (like I felt in Aix for that Così). The reaction was more like: yawn... I have the impression that Bieito is more interested in trying to shock the audience (well, that didn't work on me) than in adding something to the opera.

    I think Mr. Bieito can't stand the fact that a production might want to be, well, attractive. He goes for the derelict and distasteful feel.

    A production can be Regie with an advanced concept that works, without necessarily needing bits of trash around the stage, or a naked man parading through it.

    Calixto Bieito? I'm not a fan.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 18th, 2017 at 12:12 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    It seems like a totally different production from the one I saw. Maybe the difference between seeing in person and watching on screen, but equally likely the result of the cast leads having some sort of chemistry. I wasn't that crazy about Elina Garanca's performance at the Met - she sings wonderfully, but her acting, to my eye, isn't all that convincing.

    Too bad they chose the evening featuring the marquee names to televise and not the ones with stage chemistry.
    Well, if I think of it more carefully, maybe I am too optimistic about Elina's performance at the Met. I think that what is imposing a rosy filter onto my view is the fact that I am completely in awe of Elina Garanca; very star-struck.

    Because you are right, if I think of another Carmen like Anna Caterina Antonacci at the Royal Opera House, that's a way better acting job.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    OK, now I read Jim's review, and I have to say that I agree with this:

    The ending was what really grabbed me. Carmen and Don Jose on the totally bare stage alone. Instead of throwing his ring at him, she offers him the jewelers box with the ring, which he batted away. Carmen in low heels, backing away from the wild-eyed Don Jose, loses a shoe and proceeds to continue backing away, on one shoe, off balance. Whether the lost shoe was an accident or directed, I don't know, but it highlighted the drama of the harassment in a way that looked neither stagey nor consciously acted. Bryan Hymel sang the best, most impassioned Don Jose I've ever seen. Dramatically compelling evening with superb singing: awesome.
    Yes, the best part was the final scene. I should have talked about it a bit more. I actually got screen caps for it too but on another laptop. What happened is that I had a problem with my usual laptop during the broadcast and I actually missed part of the 4th act; instead of trying to fix it which would be time-consuming and would then make me miss more, I switched to another laptop and watched the rest there, but did miss part of it (had to first install Winscribe there too). When I posted the review I was back to my usual laptop which I had fixed, and the screen caps with the final act were on the other laptop so I didn't upload them. I'll do it later; that scene is beautiful.

    Yes, the empty stage with a chalk circle was the best set of the four. And yes, the changed dynamics (like I said in my review, Carmen here is not defiant and is rather afraid and trying to appease José) was interesting.

    Based on the last scene that did work well, I probably should upgrade my score to B+.

    Now, not only Jim saw it live while I saw it on small screen, but according to him Bryan sang passionately, which Roberto didn't. This of course makes a huge difference.

    At the Met Roberto did sing passionately, so it's probably one of the reasons why I liked it much more.

    Finally, another factor: Jim, you don't like Carmen so you weren't expecting much; got pleasantly surprised. I love Carmen so I was expecting a lot; got disappointed.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 18th, 2017 at 12:30 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    You are, of course, right about one thing (at least): Elina Garanca is gorgeous and totally mesmerizing in person. I could have listened and chatted with her for hours.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    You are, of course, right about one thing (at least): Elina Garanca is gorgeous and totally mesmerizing in person. I could have listened and chatted with her for hours.
    And you are right about one thing (at least): the last act did work.







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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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