Bizet: Carmen [Gran Teatre del Liceu]: Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Italian, Korean
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: C Major
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 25 , 2011
- List Price: $39.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Carmen, the “C” of the ABC Operas (Aida, Boheme, Carmen), is always at or near the top of repertory favorites. The music is timeless, the themes of love, loss, and fate are fundamental. This 2010 Barcelona production reflects a serious updating of a 19th century work, not necessarily to its advantage. Casting is a mixed bag with French mezzo soprano Beatrice Uria Monzon in the title role alongside international stars Robert Alagna (Don Jose), Marina Poplavskaya (Micaela), and Erwin Schrott (Escamillo). The sets are quite sparse, for example, a phone booth, a flag pole with a Spanish standard in the first act, a rickety Mercedes sedan in the second. The costumes are definitely 20th century, with Micaela appearing as flower-child with camera, Carmen as a “working” girl, Escamillo in pimp mode. Stage direction is pretty graphic, as witnessed by the Carmen-Jose sex scene in Act 2 with its bump-and-grind. While Calixto Bieito’s conceptual realization of Bizet’s masterpiece is coherent, this earthy approach may not appeal to more traditional operagoers.
OK, I do miss the sets of Seville. Further, the construct of having actors do a bit of shtick before each act doesn’t do it for me either, including the male stripper opening the Third Act. The videography within the boundaries of the production is good but not the last word in detail and definition. There is reasonable balance between distant and closeup shots. The bluish cast of the stage lighting makes this a rather monochromatic affair which underplays some of the drama.
Most of the soundtrack is upfront with a proscenium perspective. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a double-edged sword in this production since it conveys the voices with high fidelity. This produces mixed results for this ensemble. First, Mme Poplavskaya’s French diction is terrible and, this was not her night for Micaela’s Act III aria. Erwin Schrott’s Escamillo is an example of fame casting with inadequate role inhabitation. In spite of his obvious photogenicity, this is miscasting in the first degree. His rendition of the famous “Toreador Song,” lacks the machismo, and heft needed to deliver the goods. On the other hand, Mme Uria Monzon’s Carmen is the most feral that I have ever seen in the videos of this opera. Her portrayal is not the strongest vocally, but not to worry, it does get the point across. Finally, tenor Alagna has been a reliable Don Jose for many years and does not disappoint, delivering a beautiful “Flower Aria.”
None here, an opportunity missed given the somewhat controversial nature of the production.
The Definitive Word
Carmen is an opera that rarely fails to get to the heart of its audience, and seems almost immune to period updating, directorial rethinking or dramaturgy. I have seen more staged versions than I care to remember and each has had something to be said for it. While this newest BD version has some interesting concepts, it is plagued by some ineluctable problems, most of which stem with some of the singers. While Alagna and Uria-Monzon turn in workmanlike portrayals of the leads, they are undermined by the less than stellar performances of their supporting cast. The musical direction is also routine and frisson-less in a work which demands orchestral tension and evocation. More critically, it comes on the heels of a truly spectacular Decca BD starring Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Caterina Antonacci, and conductor Antonio Pappano, realized in a Royal Opera House production. Although, there are some enjoyable moments here, this Carmen would come in a distant also-ran to the above-mentioned performance.
Additional Screen Captures