The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Met: Lyric mezzo Garanca (with help from Alagna) heats up Carmen in mismatch with stodgy Nezet-Seguin (debut)

The Met has just unleashed a certainly brassy, brick wall-laden looking new production of Carmen to compete with new one opening season at La Scala six weeks ago. There may have been more connecting substance to the new Richard Eyre production than there was to the more experimental Emma Dante, given Eyre's more cogently traditional experience in theater and two previous times with opera - compared with Dante making her operatic debut. Still, the new Eyre production, as reported to me, has also its own way of being obtrusive. Such include choreography for numerous entr’actes, plus stance of Escamillo with drawn sword over slain bull next to sprawled out dead Carmen - all to come across heavy-handed and cliched. It has been heard that Alagna and Garanca had ahead of time the final scene of this rehearsed from having performed Carmen together at Convent Garden several months ago.

Most attractive in this cast was same as at La Scala the Slavic woman in the title role, in this case a refreshingly plummier toned Latvian in place of a Georgian. With Rachvelishvili, there was more spice to the tone, bite, incisiveness with text. Elina Garanca had the greater luster, tonal warmth - little of it used to infuse Carmen with any more than sensual allure. Her singing had that aplenty if less directly enticing manner of projecting it, near as much as Rachvelishvili - with different assets at her disposal. Garanca made Carmen of cooler indifference to Don Jose overall, less comprehending of why he should ever obstruct her way. If anything seemed mildly self-conscious about her interpretation, it was in taking on distraught Carmen’s imminent downfall. A pretty good dose of fatalism got applied alongside; when time came, toughness for sure for being violently confronted by Don Jose.

A few attempts at being incisive by Garanca, mostly a lyric, derailed a bit, such as on Ta-ra-ta-ta’s straying off pitch - betraying perhaps some lack of depth to lower register. The Card Song Saturday went just fine, but Garanca may have had to work the chest register for it. Low notes could a little better emerge as connected evenly with all the rest she had to offer vocally. Hers is a sound, slightly more than that of Rachvelishvili, ninety percent even across the range, and with open bloom on it from at least middle range on up. Such helped in the dance with castanets Garanca handled just fine, knowing what effect her dance has on Don Jose, but at the same time not at all caring one whit. There is room for Elina Garanca’s interpretation of Carmen to grow, but already much accomplishment indeed - certainly different, but equally distinctive as that of the Georgian girl who just made her own auspicious debut in Milan.

The most convincing color for anyone cast in either Carmen for Bizet was that of Roberto Alagna as Don Jose. From the get-go, his Jose was certainly preferable and more engaged for sure than considerably more effortful and frequently misguidedly placed Jonas Kaufmann. Alagna was heard to best effect, most lyrically, even one could suggest seductively in his Act One duet with Micaela. His having to turn up the heat for passionate and angry encounters with Carmen introduced some strain; when such occurred, all vocal allure about this Jose went a little south on him. This was even so for several phrases during the Flower Song, as finely anticipated graded attempt he made at it – with just about all the right things in mind toward making it work. His heavy bench pressing of several other things during second half of Act Two had me slightly worried, as just how there could possibly be any extra vocal capital on which to depend upon for the later finale to come. Apart from obviously losing some intonation on several notes during Act Four, he handled the scene quite well – reckoning that here is not the place for the more sympathetic qualities of Don Jose to be forefront anyway.

Barbara Frittoli (Micaela), while giving hint of more experience than ideal, but avoiding risk of cloying, made slightly heavy weather of attempting to sing softly for especially her Act One duet with Alagna. She also lost a little intonation in darkening her sound for brief middle section of her big Act Three aria. Otherwise, the aria went very well, along with well limned entries later in this scene to discreetly make futile attempt to calm Don Jose down. The aria in Act Three had excellent line, fine sense of purpose to it, with there being clear goal in mind as to what Micaela is about. There was indeed a little more here than just a wallflower on stage – and as opposed to the Dali or Bunuel-esque graying Jocasta like figure that Emma Dante put on stage for a wobbly Adriana Damato (who sounded older than Frittoli for sure) to sing Micaela in the mountain pass.

Teddy Tadu Rhodes was, on merely three hours notice, the raw sounding Escamillo. He managed to firm up for incisive exchanges with Alagna during Act Three, but everything else sounded coarse, non legato, often poorly tuned – no improvement on Erwin Schrott or, as reported, on originally scheduled Mariusz Kwiecien either. Extra stage noise intruded upon ‘Votre toast’, all as kind of layered on – also the case during childrens’ marching scene as well. The latter also had badly placed accents for their number during their early scene. Trevor Scheunemann was the somewhat tremulous sounding Morales, and nearly as much - Keith Miller’s Zuniga.

Elizabeth Caballero (Frasquita) and Sandra Piques-Eddy (Mercedes) were both bright with diction, well-animated as Carmen’s sidekicks, but with Caballero slightly hooty on top. With Earle Patriarco (Dancaire) tonally dry, slightly raspy, he and Keith Jameson (Remendado) adequately filled the two smugglers.

The podium belonged to the certainly affable, handsome, sexy, charismatic, highly diplomatic, but erratic Yannick Nezet-Seguin. There is certainly some theatricality to his work and ability to work with solo singers well. His work with the Met orchestra however was mostly dry, bland in color, unvarying in dynamics. His impetus for choruses in Carmen was more often than not too focused on what goes on orchestrally underneath, instead of really engaging with such the choral passages, such as they are. A slapdash surface brilliance very obviously came to the fore. The agitated factory girls’ chorus quickly turned garden-variety breathless. It was not so much for any tempo being too fast, as for strings, marked very softly underneath playing loudly with so much fuss to downbeats. With so much going on, words were lost; what the agitation Carmen and another girl have stirred up to entertain Zuniga could have meant also became lost

Subtler accenting got missed as well, for instance with flabby accompaniment to the Seguidilla, then obviously jerked orchestral interlude into foreground, following one verse. Earlier, there was so heavy a push to the childrens’ chorus that their accenting all but completely fell off. It sounded as though with some of his incisive accenting he might have consulted a Carlos Kleiber recording of Carmen; such emerged here however as getting mixed in with elements from elsewhere – nothing unexpected.

The ‘dragoons of Alcala’ entr’acte starting Act Two, better yet the smugglers’ chorus following stiffly played prelude to Act Three emerged relaxed. Color then healthily emerged, as it also did for the Card Song and for first portion or two of the smugglers’ ensemble later. Closing portions of the latter however got too pushed, as also the duel between Jose and Escamillo, the latter to extent of becoming really silly. In the long run, a forty-minute Third Act ultimately failed to cohere well at all. The very ending of the opera, never getting too rushed, emerged as more or less nondescriptly grandiose instead of in any way shocking; placement, accenting of offstage chorus was weakly calibrated against the rest, to not sound as though offstage. It was evident with as well the prudence to get comfortably out of the way for Act One duet for Don Jose and Micaela, that Nezet-Seguin has the ear to make Bizet’s Carmen work; all however is still too self-conscious. Here is the easy readiness to follow ready-made cliché in place of truly intimate working familiarity with score at hand.

Just about all the Ernest Guiraud recitative, widely discredited, replaced spoken dialogue. Should Richard Eyre’s production happen as meaningfully as Emma Dante’s in Milan, it absolutely must go. Accompanied introduction “C’est des contrebandiers” to Micaela’s aria could stay, but preferably as following spoken dialogue should it do so - the one possible exception. Composed recitative however for Zuniga during the Seguidilla, instead of his speaking on what should follow rudely breaks the mood and makes the music too formal. Nezet-Seguin paused well for it, as though not to do so would be to apologize for indeed its very insignificance. Jose’s singing of the ‘dragoons of Alcala’ offstage a cappella is equally ruined by break-in of recitative; words as spoken by people hearing tune from afar feels much more natural. A moment of abbreviated spoken dialogue preceded the smugglers’ ensemble halfway through Act Three, proving refreshing but self-contradictory for both the Met and Nezet-Seguin.

It is seldom I remain tuned into a Carmen using recitative, but informed that I am to witness such an important debut on the Met podium by listening in, I felt only much obliged. Furthermore the Met works under rather strict time constraints now; here it was clearly not taken into account that recitative takes longer to perform for same text - much more interesting spoken, What felt stodgier, moreover, was Nezet-Seguin’s working thereof. Even Karajan, on his last recording of Carmen (DGG), used spoken dialogue.

Many pushed phrase endings, rushed tempi only indicated a heavier approach to both Bizet’s rhythms and this music’s life overall. Barenboim’s approach was admittedly, even unabashedly heavier than that of Nezet-Seguin, but it stuck with the spoken dialogue and allowed color to more naturally emerge for many lyrical sections and better supported his singers. There is also more color to flexibly draw out of La Scala’s orchestra than from the Met. One certainly left the Barenboim with less confused impression of how he heard Carmen than what one heard Saturday. La Scala chorus consistently carried sharper profile than did the Met.

Meg and Ira – after pleasant interview – described Nezet-Seguin as someone generous with his time - never to look put-upon. One had to scratch one’s head wondering who the emcees may have had in mind for comparison. The Met should then certainly have a conductor who fits in - nobody in other words to insist upon anything, as all that should safely be left up to Peter Gelb. If these are indeed the qualities the Met seeks, that of being able to fit in and not ever to look or appear put-upon, why then not have had Nezet-Seguin already this season for the Strauss over the past few weeks? It sounded like he got all rehearsal time he needed for Carmen. We maybe then could perhaps only guess what results might have been had the repertoire instead been Richard Strauss.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters