Bizet’s Carmen, regarded as one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, is the latest production to be screened in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD Summer Encores season – a series of cinema screenings of some of the Company’s greatest productions.
Directed by Richard Eyre, this production – described at the time as “the talk of the town” – was recorded in New York in January 2010. Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča – as the seductive, bewitching, yet defiant Carmen – was described by the Observer as defining “Met quality” with her “…. abundant, sumptuous tone and generous phrasing”, and by the New York Times as “… the finest Carmen in 25 years”.
French tenor Roberto Alagna is Don José, the soldier who falls in love with Carmen, willing to sacrifice everything for her, even when the swaggering toreador Escamillo becomes the focus of Carmen’s attention. Escamillo is sung by New Zealand bass-baritone’s Teddy Tahu Rhodes who, according to The Australian, has “…. an astonishingly powerful yet subtle voice” with a “…. silkily booming resonance …”.
Barbara Fritolli, with her “…. well-rounded and warm soprano” (Bachtrack) sings the role of Micaëla who’s in love with Don José.
In 1872, Georges Bizet was commissioned to write a new work by the Paris Opéra-Comique – an institution known historically for its light, moralistic, safe and predictable pieces – and although the aim of this commission was to try and raise the theatre from its somewhat dull reputation, the co-directors had no idea just how revolutionary Bizet’s opera would be.
Based on an 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, with a libretto in French by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Bizet’s Carmen broke new ground, focussing on the underclass – the so-called ‘common folk’, which included gypsies, smugglers and factory workers, women who smoked in public, who were involved in physical fights and who were sexually free. Consequently, when the opera premiered at the Opéra-Comique in March 1875, it was condemned by the critics as immoral and vulgar.
Bizet, who had taken a lot of care to familiarize himself with the music of Andalusia – the region in which Carmen is set – was devastated by this reception, and at the time of his death, three months after the premiere, he was certain that he’d written the greatest failure in the history of opera. He didn’t live to see how successful his Carmen would become – nor did he know of the prediction of Tchaikovsky, no less, that within 10 years, it would become “the most popular opera in the world”.
To add to the lustre of this Metropolitan Opera production, the dance sequences are created by one of today’s most successful choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon who has not only choreographed works for the world’s leading ballet companies, but who directed and choreographed the Tony Award-winning 2015 revival of An American in Paris on Broadway.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal, Honorary Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Honorary Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and dancers, in this production which screens at cinemas across the United States and the United Kingdom on July 28th. To find your nearest cinema in the US, follow this link, and cinemas in the UK can be found on this link.
Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes