Covent Garden 2006. Production: Francesca Zambello. Cast: Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen), Jonas Kaufmann (Don José), Ildebrando D´Arcangelo (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. Ildebrando D´Arcangelo 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
Ildebrando D´Arcangelo: 4
Francesca Zambello: 4
Antonio Pappano: 4-5
Overall impression: 5