Sunday 15 February 2009

Carmen on DVD: Shattering Antonacci and Kaufmann in 2006 London performance

Carmen. Royal Opera Covent Garden 2006. Production: Francesca Zambello. Cast: Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen), Jonas Kaufmann (Don José), IldebrandoArcangelo (Escamillo), Norah Amsellem (Micaëla). Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Further information here.

Director Francesca Zambello opted to create a "realistically desolate" production of Carmen for the Royal Opera in order to reflect on the every-day background on which the drama unfolds. And she succeeds admirably, presenting dreary, rusty simple sets and singers in period costumes. Admittedly, it could have been much worse. And indeed, with the cast presented I am inclined to not care about Zambello´s staging at all.

Ironically, most Carmen performances end up with plenty of praise for Micaëla and Escamillo, as more often than not Don José and Carmen doesn´t really kick it off. Oppositely here. IldebrandoArcangelo looks great as Escamilla, but I don´t really take to his grainy voice. Same goes for Norah Amsellem as Micaëla, whose vibrato, though less obtrusive here than in the Berlin Carmen, really does her no favor. However, I am inclined not to care about these issues either as both Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann are shattering as the leads with stage chemistry and acting making this, by far, the best Carmen on DVD.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is not a mezzo-soprano and though her center voice lies higher than the traditional Carmen, she pulls both the cards scene and final scene off, vocally as well. Her stunning and completely involving acting is on a level of its own, places her Carmen in a league with very few members.

Jonas Kaufmann superbly portraits Don José´s change from obediant, rational soldier to a virtually insane man. Though Don José really is a whimp, Jonas Kaufmann avoids making him appear as such. Vocally, it does sound like he pushes hard for the top-notes, however Plácido Domingo has always sounded like this in his seemingly endless career.

Combined with a straight-forward engaged reading from Antonio Pappano, this is one of the most successful productions of the last decade for the Royal Opera.

Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann: Final scene

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Anna Caterina Antonacci: 5
Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Norah Amsellem: 3-4
IldebrandoArcangelo: 4

Francesca Zambello: 4

Antonio Pappano: 4-5

Overall impression: 5


Anonymous said...

Gorgeous singing (from Kaufmann in particular), excellent French, but why is the staging so dull ?

(btw, Mostly, did you receive my private message ?)

marcillac said...

On a somewhat related topic, Zambello's Don G at Covent Garden, which I saw at its premiere in 2002, was extremely lackluster and DID, in that case, detract from an excellent cast which sounded terrific but was badly victimized by seemingly very poor stage direction. (An excellent cast, that is, but one compromised by Bryn Terfel in the title role, the purported "star" of the show, but in this case the worst of the principles but out of sorts not only dramatically but in poor vocal form and on balance quite a bit worse that he had been at the Met - available on DVD, I think you've mentioned seeing it - the previous year).

Haven't seen the DVD yet but Antonacci (difficult to place vocally to be sure but an excellent Dorabella - the only time I've heard her live) and Kaufmann do seem excellent on YouTube and your review certainly makes one more inclined to but the thing.

We generally disagree about D'Arcangelo but from the clips I think you're right that he was not at his best, although having to sing on the horse could hardly have been helpful.

mostly opera... said...

"On a somewhat related topic, Zambello's Don G at Covent Garden, which I saw at its premiere in 2002, was extremely lackluster and DID, in that case, detract from an excellent cast"

I believe it is up for release on DVD sometimes later this year with Keenlyside/DiDonato etc..And, yes, it is a terribleproduction, which does detract from the cast

Bogda said...

I've bought this DVD based on the clip on YouTube, which really blew me away. However, at the end it turned up to be more disappointing then expected. For me the only true star of this production is Kaufmann. He sings and acts as if the role were written for me alone. Absolutely superb and convincing. Antonacci for me is quite an average Carmen, without much charisma (though she does try to act, but somehow the role just isn’t hers). Sings well, but leaves me completely uninterested. D’Arcangelo, which I’ve actually liked in some other productions, disappoints. Zembello, some of whose productions I actually tend to like, made quite an unintelligent, plain and rather boring production. Overall nothing special, apart from Kaufmann’s singing. For everything else, this DVD could be skipped.

Horace Cope said...

I have seen it twice now - the first run was best - although the production remains a mystery. From a article in the house magazine it seems things were cut out because they frightened the horse !

In the theatre the production is over busy - eg in act 3 people abseil down the set - pointless and distracting

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