Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Carmen Aldrich

Carmen at Chorégie d’Orange was TV live broadcast less than two weeks ago. Contrary to the Puccini operas or the dreaded Verismo repertoire, Carmen is always enjoyable to listen to, so even when the visuals are less appealing you may always take pleasure in music and good singing — especially with the cast like the one chosen for this year’s Carmen in Orange.

Carmen is really a gem on its own. It was composed during the Wagner era but, unlike most of his contemporaries, Bizet avoided the trap of trying to be “more dramatic than Wagner” or to be sweet and sugary. Nietzsche actually, after his obsession with Wagner, suggested that “Carmen is the best opera there is”, that it provided the Mediterraneanization of music and that it brought back cheerfulness, youth. More significantly Nietzsche suggested that the music [of Carmen] liberates spirit. At the time of its creation that last sentence is definitely a key.

In Paris, the ultra-conservative pious bourgeoisie of the late 19th century was outraged by immorality in Carmen. They found the action crude and vulgar. Nationalistic critics thought the music was too dark and heavy, and even complained of too much “Wagnerism”  in it (sic!). Of course there were many who loved Carmen and today it is probably the most loved opera in the world.

Carmen on DVD: No good production is available unfortunately, except for the one directed by Calixto Bieito in Barcelona. HOWEVER, if you ever get a chance to see the production staged by Sebastian Baumgarten at the Komische Oper in Berlin you will definitely see something special. Another good example is the production directed by Emma Dante at La Scala — excellent show, viciously booed for the reasons similar to those for which the similar crowd booed the premiere at the Opera Comique in 1875…

Now back to the production presented at Choregie this month. You should know that the old Roman amphitheater at Orange is enormous and the show is not mounted to please only the TV viewers, but also the people in the crowd, so the chances were the action would look naive, vieux théâtre, big gestures… While the direction by Louis Désiré in the first two acts was  quite good, in the second part the show took a dive for the worse and soon it all started to look as expected — as one of the Eyre productions at The Met: old by construction, unimaginative, filled with clichés and with poor direction of extras.

Better part are the singers: Anna Caterina Antonacci is dethroned and the best Carmen around is Kate Aldrich.* I saw her several years ago in the same role but I guess her Carmen was work in progress back then and now she’s absolutely wonderful in the role. Nothing to add, nor subtract — simply impeccable: her stage charisma, her vocal dominance, her incarnation… 10/10. I am not an unconditional Jonas Kaufmann fan. Two things I love about him are his Lieder-Abend’s, and his singing of the French opera roles for which he arguably defined the standards that will be super-hard to beat in the decades to come. So his Don José was as expected: superbly sung and brilliantly acted. Jonas is really one of a kind. Bravissimo! It wouldn’t be fair to end this note without mentioning always excellent Kyle Ketelsen whose Escamillo was a great match in quality to Kate and Jonas.

I have to admit that this opera, when well sung and well conducted, is already 70% success. For that reason you might wish to spend a few quality hours listening to (or even watching) the show that is now available on YouTube: Act I-II  and Act III-IV.

* NB: Kate Aldrich will be singing Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust at Opéra de Lyon next October!

A few excerpts:

Kate rulz! (Seguedilla)

Jonas at his best (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée):

Kyle Ketelsen

Jonas and Kate responded to Natalie Dessay in French:


  1. When are you going to resume posting? Miss reading your extraordinary blog, even when I don't agree it's never less than informative and interesting. Hope you haven't stopped for good lol. Believe me, there are plenty of opera goers out there who prefer theatrically complex and compelling performances.