Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Don Carè to the rescue (ROH/Carmen)

Georges Bizet, Carmen (Alexander Joel cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera)
There's a grim inevitability about it. Several months ago a mortgage-sized payment for tickets. Two nights at Covent Garden because -gasp - Kaufmann is singing Don José. And then an email. Jonas is sick. And so was I for a few moments. But I bounced back pretty quickly. A nice weekend in town, a premiere  and some Carmen. It turns out, his replacement was pretty decent by any reasonable standard. If Kaufmann is Dom Pérignon (or should that be Don? [groan]) then Carè is a young vintage broachable now, but with much potential.

Andrea Carè © Andrea Carè, 2015

To the rescue: Andrea Carè © Andrea Carè, 2015
On Saturday things began with a moment's silence for Paris. In opera, so often the silences are the most powerful. There was no marsellaise as elsewhere. It wasn't needed with Carmen: the French opera.

Having been back on the Monday too, I combine comments in a comparative fashion;  the performances were surprisingly distinct, but are best dealt with together.
Firstly , the production by Francesca Zambello is fairly straight-down-the-middle and includes a replica Seville orange tree so realistic I was searching for my maslin pan. Alexander Joel - who made a fine job of Puccini in the summer, delivered a sensitive, punchy interpretation of the score. Monday night finished well ahead of Saturday, and a minute's silence hardly accounts for this. This is meant to please, and a horse, a donkey and some chickens (watered on Saturday but not Monday) achieve this animal element guaranteed to entrance the British public. What I didn't like was smuggling of "explosivos": it was all a bit G&S at this point and it ought not to be amusing.
The singing was excellent and at times sublime. Carmen (Anita Rachvelishvili) made for a sexy performance, and brought a physicality to the production which was to be admired; in so doing it was a bullfight with so many of the male characters. Initially-docile Don José was taunted to the horrible conclusion of the opera. On Saturday he took a little while to warm and I think he possible felt the pressure with the flower song; by Monday this was much more powerful. A much rounder-sounding tenor than Jonas, he didn't stretch to cover all the notes so generously, but in the middle-ranges his sound was sweeter and fuller. A José with slightly too much composure perhaps; at the end it was hard to believe he had really been driven to kill Carmen.  All the same, Carè is one to watch.
The rest of the cast was almost as big a draw as Kaufmann.  An estimable toreador, Escamillo (Gábor Bretz) has more depth and power than when I heard him as Bluebeard in July 2014, when he had just arrived at Covent Garden. And he can ride a horse on stage. With this swagger, he was every part the toreador.
The best singing of the evening came from aMicaëla (Sonya Yonchev). Fine and clear, perhaps ever so slightly shrill on the Monday night at the very top end: this was a highly memorable performance.
Yoncheva takes curtain call.
An especial mention must go to Frasquita (Vlada Borovko). A fairly small part, but really very wonderful  - more noticeable from the front of the stalls than the back of the stalls circle, a commanding presence and really beautiful instrument. I anticpate her in Godunov and I might well plonk for Nabucco too.
Zuniga (Nicolas Courjal) came almost fresh from his psychopathic peformance in Guillaume Tell. The quality of his diction was as remarkable as the meance he brought again. I am quite sure he is a very nice person, but on stage he does rather suit the villain of the piece. I don't think I shall tire of him any time soon. Since Gerhaher's unfathomably perfect recital I had been pondering the value of native-speakers. Courjal makes it rather more eloquently than I ever might. I look forward to hearing him in Oedipe in 2016.
With quite different locations over the two nights, it was a joy to see so many new aspects on the second night. The team had settled more on Monday  and there was so many good things, one almost forgot about Jonas. Almost. 

Overall: a very memorable Carmen despite the illness of the main attraction; I wouldn't be surprised if in 2030 the excitement is that Carè is to sing José.

Conductor: Alexander Joel
Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili
Don José: Andrea Carè
Escamillo: Gábor Bretz
Micaëla: Sonya Yoncheva
Frasquita: Vlada Borovko
Mercédès: Rachel Kelly
Le Dancaïre: Adrian Clarke
Le Remendado: Harry Nicoll
Zuniga: Nicolas Courjal
Moralès: Samuel Dale Johnson
Royal Opera Chorus
Sergey Levitin
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Music: Georges Bizet
Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Director: Francesca Zambello
Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting designer: Paule Constable
Choreography: Arthur Pita
Fight director: Mike Loades

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