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Thread: Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera House - review and interviews with Alagna and Kurzak

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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 the Metropolitan Opera House - review and interviews with Alagna and Kurzak

    Carmen, opéra comique in four acts, sung in French (presented with Met titles in English, German, and Spanish)
    Music by Georges Bizet
    Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée
    Premiered in Paris on March 3, 1875 at the Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart)

    The 1,019th Metropolitan Opera performance of Carmen, attended in person by Opera Lively on 1/21/2019

    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée
    The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, chorus master Donald Palumbo; Children's Chorus directed by Anthony Piccolo
    Production - Sir Richard Eyre
    Set and Costume Designer - Rob Howell
    Lighting Designer - Peter Mumford
    Choreographer - Christopher Wheeldon
    Revival Stage Director - Paula Williams


    Principal Roles

    Carmen - Clémentine Margaine
    Don José - Opera Lively interviewee Roberto Alagna, who spoke with us for the third time tonight
    Micaëla - Opera Lively interviewee Aleksandra Kurzak, who spoke with us for the second time tonight
    Escamillo - Alexander Vinogradov

    Secondary Roles

    Zuniga - Raymond Aceto
    Frasquita - Sydney Mancasola
    Mercédès - Samantha Hankey

    Comprimario Roles

    Morales - Alexey Lavrov
    Le Dancaïre - Javier Arrey
    Le Remendado - Eduardo Valdes

    Solo Dancers

    Maria Kowroski
    Martin Harvey


    This is the fourth time I see this production, and the third one with Roberto Alagna, but it doesn't get old. Not only he is one of my very favorite tenors (and a great human being), but we also got treated tonight to Aleksandra Kurzak, and my admiration for the couple couldn't be any bigger. Sir Richard Eyre's production is well-known all over the world, but seeing it again live on stage is always a pleasure, because the visuals are stunning, and the revolving stage works exceedingly well. Blocking and choreography are a thing of beauty, and the costumes are fabulous as well. Lighting with the strong blue and red colors is fantastic. Add a French conductor to the mix and the spectacular Met Opera Orchestra, and the result is perfection.

    Does Carmen suffer from over-exposure? Sure. Just two days ago I saw Carmen at Opera Carolina, so seeing another one 48 hours later might appear like a less-than-thrilling proposition. But when a popular workhorses is done well, the feeling is one of exhilaration, instead of boredom. Besides, even when we see the same production over and over, there is always something new, like Don José's crucifix in the last scene, which, as I suspected, was Roberto Alagna's idea (he confirmed it to me in our mini-interview backstage tonight - see below).

    How was the singing tonight? Roberto was in great form, and very touching in "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée." A++. Aleksandra dazzled with her purity of tone and beautiful timbre of voice, and drew the most prolonged applause of the night after her phenomenal "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante." Another A++, of course (and her fine acting matched her voice). The Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov was a very good Escamillo, and delivered the Toreador song with sufficient volume in the low notes, a rare phenomenon for most performers of this role. A+. I was less impressed with Clémentine Margaine (in part because I missed Elina Garanca who was a superb Carmen three years ago when I saw her live with the same Roberto Alagna), even though she had no flaws in her singing at all. I guess she was all correct but not spectacular, so she gets a score of A. The choruses, both the adult's and the children's, were extremely competent. Regarding the smaller and comprimario roles, they weren't particularly good (this was maybe the only aspect that was better in the other Carmen I saw this past Saturday, which counted on surprisingly accomplished singers for Mercédès and Frasquita).

    The biggest pleasure of the night, was meeting Roberto and Aleksandra backstage again. Even though it was 11:30 PM and the singers had a commitment that required them to wake up the next morning at 5 AM, and were also granting an interview to a Polish organization, they still found in themselves the willingness to speak with Opera Lively for a pleasant exclusive mini-interview.

    Here is what they had to say:

    An exclusive Opera lively mini-interview with Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak

    Questions by Luiz Gazzola. The interview was done in French (translation Luiz Gazzola) with Roberto Alagna (our third one with him) and in English with Aleksandra Kurzak (our second one with her), backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House, on 1/21/2019. Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction authorized as long as the source is mentioned and a link to this article is provided.

    OL – So, it’s the fourth time that I see this production, and the third time with you, I think. Last time I saw you in this role, it was with Elina Garanca.

    RA – Exactly.

    OL – When it’s the same production you’ve done before, how do you manage to find something new?

    RA – For me, all evenings bring something different. It depends on the partners, on life experience, several things. This is what is great in opera; that every time, it is different, especially for a role like Don José that calls for a certain maturity. The character evolves with the maturity of the singer’s private life.

    What I find incredible is that I’ve been singing in Carmen at the Met for nineteen years, so I’m happy. I believe that my approach to this character has immensely evolved in these nineteen years, because these days, I try to understand human nature a bit better. Therefore, I’m more tolerant with certain things. I never criticize, I never pass judgment. I always try to put myself into the character’s situation. For me, nobody is evil. When we become evil, it’s because there was some situation, be it social, economic, or emotional, that made us evil and able to commit terrible acts. This is true for all characters, so I believe it is very important to refrain from passing judgment.

    OL – So, I think, that crucifix was something new.

    RA – That was my idea!

    OL – Ah! It’s like Don José is an exorcist, then!

    RA – He’s a bit like an exorcist, if you want, but actually, what inspired me was Athanaël in Thaïs, who comes back from the mountains after some meditation, and he wants to save the prostitute’s soul. I noticed in the libretto that José does the same thing. He says “let me save you and save myself with you, for the last time, demon!” And damned, and all that; really José went to the mountains too; maybe he engaged in some meditation and had a divine call, which made him try to save the soul of this woman who, he believes, was taken by the devil, and he wants his own salvation. When we read Mérimée’s novella, it is interesting to see that he buried her in a hidden corner. He buries her with a little cross, and he says “I don’t know if I did the right thing.” This is what gave me the idea of coming with this cross. He buries her with the cross and says “I hope the old hermit will be able to save her soul.”

    OL – Formidable.

    RA – That’s it. This is very important.

    OL – Very well. So, your daughter Malèna is five years old, now.

    RA – Yes, she will be five at the end of this month.

    OL – Does she realize already that her father recorded a CD for her, with her song?

    RA – Yes, yes, certainly ! She knows the song, and knows that I wrote poetry for her, and that her father is an artist. By the way, every evening she presents her own show, for us. [laughs]

    OL – Back to Carmen ; it is interesting that Micaëla is like the voice of consciousness, or censorship.

    RA – For me, she isn’t the consciousness. Micaëla in the novella was adopted by José’s mother, and was promised in marriage to José. She had a Catholic education. Therefore she also comes to save José. She thinks that he is under Carmen’s spell, who is, for her, someone maleficent. So it is always this story of the devil, of maleficence; actually it is a religious story, between good and evil; it’s always the same thing. These are Spaniards, Basques, gypsies. Carmen, she does love José, in the novella. He tells his mother…

    OL – You mean, Micaëla loves José.

    RA – No, Carmen also loves José. Micaëla certainly does love José, and José loves Micaëla, but he has a fatal attraction to Carmen, who represents the shameless femininity. She lets out all her femininity, while Micaëla is very prude, very Catholic. She doesn’t show her femininity. She is always all covered-up, won’t tell him “I love you,” and won’t kiss him.

    OL – This time, however, there were kisses, anyway.

    RA – Why did we do it like this? To show, precisely, that this man has another destiny, but due to this attraction to this gypsy, he will switch to the other side. This is how in the novella he kills Zuniga, and kills Garcia who is Carmen’s husband. It’s like this that he kills Escamillo, whose name in the novella is Lucas. So, he kills everybody. He is someone who had killed before he comes to Seville.

    OL – For this crime, he was banned to Seville, right?

    RA – Yes, he was banned. He had the choice between prison and the Army, and he chose the Army and was sent to Seville. At the time, going from La Navarra to Seville, was like going to Siberia, for the Russians. He was sent very far from his homeland. He talks about all of this, in the book. It is very interesting. I was saying, when we think that Carmen doesn’t love José, that she just wants to be free, it’s not true. In the novella, José says that when he was wounded, she stayed by his side day and night, and he writes, “a woman has never loved a man this much.” It’s interesting, right?

    OL – Yes. Doing this role with your real wife, does it change it a bit?

    RA – Yes, certainly, because it is a sort of reality. That is, there is a reality in this couple, who were promised to each other, to become husband and wife. They are already almost husband and wife, given that they grew up together. She was adopted into his family, so they’ve been a couple already, for a long time. This is maybe why José rather sees her as a sister.

    [Aleksandra Kurzak joins us]

    AK –That kiss wasn’t sister-like ! [laughs]

    RA – Certainly, because he wants to convince himself that he loves Micaëla. And next, he receives his mother’s pardon, and at that moment he is happy. “Yes, mother, don’t worry, I will marry her, Micaëla. I love her!” He says in response to his mother’s letter, “I answer that it is true, I love her.”

    AK – They have this life together. I was dreaming last night that Roberto was cheating on me, and I woke up crying.

    [OL and RA laugh a lot.]

    AK – He was cheating on Micaëla with Carmen on stage, and I was dreaming about a story like that as Aleksandra !

    OL – It is interesting, because you tell him « don’t do this, come back, » and so forth.

    RA – Can we switch ? I have to go talk to the Polish.

    OL – Yes, sure. Thanks, Roberto. [talks to Aleksandra, in French]. It’s funny, because these are things that my wife tells me all the time.

    AK – Yes, yes, but let’s speak English, please; it is easier for me.

    OL – OK. It is a bit funny because these are things that wives tell husbands. My wife often tells me “don’t do this” if I’m trying to do something silly.

    AK - [laughs] It’s the role of wives…

    OL – Is it funny for you to be telling Roberto these things?

    AK – As Micaëla, or as his wife? [laughs, then turns serious]. I think Micaëla is a smart girl and she is using a little bit the power of the mother, to convince him to come back, because she can see in the third act that he is absolutely lost, with his feeling for Carmen. She doesn’t know what to do, in order to convince him to love her again. She is trying everything to get him back, because she really loves him very much.

    OL – I loved your acting as well, especially in your first scene. You did it so well, with the soldiers!

    AK – Yes, it was very nice.

    OL – What is your take on Micaëla; how do you act her?

    AK – You know, this is my second production of Carmen. I did it the first time in that very famous Calixto Bieito production in Paris. The approach to Micaëla in that show in Paris was very different. It wasn’t the naive girl. We were laughing during the rehearsals here in New York. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but here at the end of the third act Carmen is spitting at Don José and in the Bieito production it was exactly the opposite. It’s Micaëla who spits at Carmen when she is leaving with Don José.

    She is a very tough girl. She has a huge personality and is very bright. She is a brave girl, you know, coming to the smugglers’ lair. Like Roberto said, Andalusia for the Basques was like Siberia for the Polish people, or Russians, that way. So, it was very very far, for a Spanish girl, to go there during the night, alone, going into this group that today we would call terrorists. She is not naive; she knows what she wants.

    With Calixto she was very badly dressed, just to show to the public that she is from the countryside, and she wants to be the city girl, so she overdoes it. That’s why I’m not playing the naive one. You've mentioned the scene with soldiers. She knows how to play with the soldiers. It’s not easy in real life to escape when you are surrounded by twenty, thirty men! It’s impossible, so you have to find and use your woman’s skills. You need to flirt a little bit just to give hope to the men, but at the same time you open the doors and escape, otherwise you’d have no power to do it.

    In this production, they said “in the third act the smugglers will hold you very tight, and you’ll escape.” It’s impossible. In real life if a man holds me with one hand, I may be unable to escape, let alone several men. On stage, I always try to portray real life, real things, so I use my feminine skills to get out of the situation.

    OL – Your next role in Paris is Desdemona. Is it your role debut?

    AK – No, it’s my third one. It was supposed to be my first one, but in the meantime I sang it for the very first time in Vienna, at the State Opera, last season with Roberto, and then I sang it again without him, in Hamburg. I came back to Hamburg after ten years, because I was there in the ensemble for six years. It was very moving to come back with a new repertory.

    OL – What can you tell us about the Desdemona part?

    AK – Oh, it’s absolutely beautiful. It is very challenging. Of course, the last act is the most beautiful one and I’m always looking forward to it. You can really show your skills and your musicality. The first duet is of course very beautiful as well, but the last act is very complex and unique; there are crescendi and diminuendi, the mezza voce, the piani, and this is something that I love to do, and I’m quite gifted and praised for, like I did for example in LaTraviata for Paris. Again, Desdemona is not naive, as well.

    OL – On the other hand, there is maybe an unconscious aspect in the fact that she says so many things to Otello that make him jealous!

    AK – Yes, absolutely. She knows that Otello is a huge friend of Cassio, but she is absolutely convinced that Otello is angry just because he had a fight with him. So she says, “please, go and talk with Cassio, make peace with him!” She doesn’t know that Otello is actually jealous of Cassio because she is so pure inside! She is angel-like. She can’t really imagine that someone, especially Otello, could think that she was being unfaithful. She is convinced that it is all just a big misunderstanding, and she believes that she is the person who can solve the situation and bring peace to them.

    OL – So, the last time we talked, it was one year ago. What has happened that is interesting in your career, during this past year?

    AK – It was a very good year for me. I had the debut as Desdemona, and also as Luisa Miller which is a very beautiful Verdi role. The most beautiful thing for us is that Roberto and I recorded the CD called Puccini in Love.

    [Roberto comes back] – And La Navarraise.

    AK – Yes, La Navarraise as well!

    OL – You also released a single, with the Deliverance (Libertà) song.

    [Roberto and Aleksandra rejoice] AK – Yes, congratulations, you know it all. It was incredible because we released works with the three major recording labels, Warner, Sony, and Deutsche Grammophon. I thought hat the Puccini one was incredibly beautiful.

    OL – I don’t want to keep you guys for too long. I know you have to wake up very early tomorrow.

    RA – Yes, at five o’clock.

    OL – It was lovely that you still found the time to speak with us.

    AK – Thank you!

    RA – It was our pleasure!

    OL – You are my favorite artists, and the nicest ones, too.

    [Both RA and AK] Thank you so much!


    Production Pictures, courtesy of the Met Press Department. Fair Promotional Use. Photo Credits Karen Almond / Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

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    Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna

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    Clémentine Margaine and Roberto Alagna

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    Clémentine Margaine and Alexander Vinogradov

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    Spanish dances in the second act

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    Solo dancers

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    Solo dancers

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    Roberto Alagna

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    Spanish dances in the second act
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 25th, 2019 at 03:31 PM.
    "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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    The article above is now complete, with Roberto's and Aleksandra's mini-interviews.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 22nd, 2019 at 07:19 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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