DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

BIZET: Carmen (complete opera)

Does too much authenticity rob a production of life?

Published on July 15, 2011

BIZET: Carmen (complete opera)

BIZET: Carmen (complete opera) 



Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner
Cast: Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen)/ Andrew Richards (Don Jose)/ Anne-Catherine Gillet (Micaela)/ Nicolas Cavallier (Escamilo)
The Monteverdi Choir /Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique
Director: Adrian Noble

Studio: Fra Musica 004, 2009, (2 DVDs) [Distr. by Naxos]

Video: 16:9 Color

Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German

Extras: Interview with John Eliot Gardiner, Jerome Deschamps, and Agnes Terrier (21 minutes) 

Length: 170 minutes (opera only)
Rating: ***1/2

It doesn’t get much more authentic than this—instruments used in Bizet’s time played in the theater that produced Carmen and using sets and costumes very much like the originals. Add a very good heroine and a conductor who can do no wrong, and you would seem to have the perfect production, right?

Wrong.

The story of the great seducer and seductress, a woman who can have her way with any man she wants, even to the point of driving him to murder, is something that we today have a tough time relating to in terms of period personification. Carmen seems tame here—a day and age (ours) that has seen it all in terms of sexuality, and actually does see it all day in and day out, needs a lot of convincing in this department if there is to be any credibility and audience connection. Anna Caterina Antonacci is a curvaceous and very sexy woman who does a fine if not earth-shattering job with this role, and we come away not doubting a moment that the boys of Seville would have gone wild over her antics and looks—but we don’t. There is simply no more seduction than one would see in a middle school these days, though I realize that is a sad commentary. The role needs to be juiced up—Julia Migenes did it well from an acting standpoint—in order to make it convincing to modern audiences. And while I did enjoy her singing, I felt that this production, rather monochromatic in color style, lacked the requisite “sizzle” to make it sell.

But there is a further issue as well—the Don Jose of Andrew Richards is one of the most wimpy, pathetic whiners I have ever seen in this role. There is simply nothing heroic, sexy, or the least attractive about his portrayal of the lovesick soldier who at least has enough charisma to momentarily capture Carmen’s affection, though ultimately as the femme fatale she is, no one will ever have her. Don Jose has to at least be able to muster forth some degree of sex appeal, and this one has none. Richard’s singing is rather lackluster also, losing any sense of vocal beauty in his hijacked attempt to act his way into the role instead of vocalizing it—always a failure in any opera. I was intrigued for the first act, but by the end I was on Carmen’s side completely and almost couldn’t wait for the end.

This is not to say it is a bad production. Overall the other singers and choristers are excellent and give their all in this rather historical setting, and the orchestra plays like madmen in this music, Gardiner particularly adept at getting just what he needs from them. The sound is terrific and the visual image first class. This is still recommendable, and would have been four stars with a different Don Jose. A separate DVD with interviews rounds out a very fine production package.

– Steven Ritter




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