With its spoken dialogue, scores of children, animals and dancers, and rich, authentically Spanish setting, director Francesca Zambello’s creative but traditional production of perennial favourite Carmen is a true crowd-pleaser. Action, dance and stunts abound, but the key focus is on crystal clear storytelling and character motivation.
The capacity audience drew their collective breath at the unwelcome sight of Royal Opera chief Kasper Holten on stage, microphone in hand, at the start of the night. It seemed that star attraction Roberto Alagna was somewhat unwell, but was still going to perform tonight. The crowd breathed a sigh of relief and crossed their fingers that Alagna would be up to the task.
The role of Don José is surely one of the strongest in Alagna’s impressive repertoire, the combination of masculinity and romanticism, as well as the French singing, suiting his talents and style perfectly. Zambello’s direction makes Jose’s journey from dutiful soldier and son to passion-crazed lover clear and compelling. Although Alagna’s acting skills were in fine form, the chest/throat infection had an unfortunate impact on his singing, making high notes a strain. His delivery of the Flower Song was generally sensitive, but he powered through with extra volume to support the notes rather than using the tender pianissimo that is a feature of his performance of this aria when at his best.
The previously announced withdrawal of Elīna Garanča due to happy family news was disappointing, but the chance to see Anna Caterina Antonacci as Carmen was a real thrill. Antonacci’s lusty, busty performance lights up the stage, and the incredible projection of her expressive mezzo-soprano voice easily fills the house. [Antonacci is seen on the filmed recording of this production opposite Jonas Kaufmann.]
Verónica Cangemi wins the audience’s hearts with her lovely rendition of Micaëla’s earnest prayer “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante.”
Vito Priante, showing great confidence in his arrival on horseback, brings levity and charm to the role of toreador Escamillo.
The return of this production to the stages of Opera Australia in 2014 is now all the more anticipated.
Photos: Simon Parris