French Carmen at Glyndebourne

25 Jun

I last saw the Glyndebourne Carmen when it was new in 2002. I remember it as being an alert, detailed, attractive production that wasn’t going to frighten any horses and was likely to last forever. Thirteen years on, in an intelligent, alert, detailed revival, I again had the feeling that, if you want a vanilla Carmen, this was about as good as it gets.  I saw the performance on 22nd June.

There are lots of good things about the production: Michael Vale’s sets and Paule Constable’s lighting get exactly the right sort of effects – brilliantly, the set for Act III is virtually created entirely by the lighting. McVicar’s production doesn’t put a foot wrong technically and the details – particularly the acting and chorus work are excellent – there are some wonderful comedies going on at the opening of Act IV. The comedy for the smugglers is done marvellously and he gets that heady mixture of eroticism, violence, threat and comedy pretty much perfectly blended. Graham Vick’s production for Scottish may have been cleverer and had more striking images, Calixto Bieito’s explores the piece more deeply, Pountney’s at ENO may have had greater flare, but this, overall, is as good a Carmen visually as you could hope for.

Where it becomes outstanding is in the direction of the Carmen/José relationship and of those two characters. You suddenly felt the temperature ratchet up when Carmen declares that she is “amoureuse” and you sense the determination of the character and the following scene with José is fascinatingly done – is she making love to pay her debt or because there’s an attraction there? Stephanie D’Oustrac’s acting of this was beautifully ambiguous – erotic, determined and you could understand why Jose was so spellbound. In Act III, the trauma of a broken relationship and her dawning realisation of the likely end was really well delineated. And the final duet was mesmerisingly well done as you saw two people battling and the death an accident.

Ms D’Oustrac is the first French Carmen that I’ve heard in the theatre. It helps hugely. She sings the word clearly and naturally, the colours come from their meaning: it’s not exaggerated but wonderfully idiomatic. Vocally, she fits the part well and she acts the wild, amoral but actually highly principled heroine with real integrity.  You could understand the fascination. Overall, this was the most convincing Carmen that I’ve seen.

Pavel Cernoch was José. He acted the role outstandingly: the look of mesmerised despair and sheer pig-headed determination grew throughout the third and fourth acts. Between them, they got to the heart of this relationship. Vocally, he was at his best in the outbursts of violence, the passion and he managed the last act heroically. I wanted a softer, more beautiful and subtle sound and approach for the scene with Micaela and for the flower song.

These two carried the drama. The others were simply bit players. Lucy Crowe sang strongly as Micaela, though I’ve heard sweeter sounds and more communication. David Soar, promoted from Zuniga, was a very fine Escamillo with just the right ease and swagger and sang very well. Loic Felix and Christophe Gay were outstanding as the smugglers and the two gipsies were excellent.

The chorus was in predictably strong form and must have had great fun with the multiple roles. Jakob Hrusa conducted. It was a clear, gutsy performance that supported the singers well. I remember that Philippe Jordan had more elan when the production was new, but this was a very satisfying reading of the opera and the LPO sounded on good form.

It may not be the height of modern interpretations of Carmen but it’s well-prepared, well-sung and packed just the punch that the opera should.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: