Carmen last night – again

I like this opera but not that much, and we have seen quite a lot of Carmens over the years, but last December we went to Carmen at the Royal Opera House because we wanted to hear the fabulous mezzo Elina Garanca. Sadly we had failed to note a later cast change. To make matters worse, the opera was conducted at a funereal pace and in spite of fine singers in the cast, the director had opted for an ‘earthy’ interpretation. So we watched the unfortunate female leads (some strapping) singing in a permanent squat, with theirs skirts above their less than seductive knees.

So on Tuesday, when our opera friends came round to watch a DVD of Carmen, I was not wild with enthusiasm.

We had put on the Luis Lima, Maria Ewing, 1997 recording from the Royal Opera House, (not sophisticated in today’s filming terms). I had forgotten how simply fabulous this recording is. Luis Lima, his voice clear, warm, melodic and infinitely touching, and acting his socks off is a vulnerable, passionate Don José.

Maria Ewing has the voice and style to carry off the very tricky combinations required of a Carmen. She makes the singing look easy! She is sexy, languid, fatalistic and proud and clearly prizes freedom above her life.

Escarmillo (Gino Quilico) has a good strong baritone, with plenty of colour, he is proud without any over-the-top narcissism. Micaela (Leontina Vaduva) was sweetly pretty in both voice and appearance.

Top of the bill, however is Zubin Mehta’s conducting. The spanking pace gives the drama extra edge and the sense that we are caught up in fatal events over which we have no control. The amazing contrast achieved by this speed and Ewing’s deliberately slow pace, gives the whole drama enormous tension.

One very happy opera fan here. Luis Lima deserves to be remembered more often.

6 thoughts on “Carmen last night – again

  1. I’m enjoying reading your opera posts. Just saw Les Pêcheurs de Perles here in Albuquerque, by Opera Southwest. My reaction was: nice production and ok singing and pleasant music, but not even close to Carmen. Actually my tastes go more to Wagner and R. Strauss.
    BTW I don’t think I’d be a fan of ‘earthy’ interpretations either! I’ll have to check out the Lima/Ewing Carmen. Thanks for writing about it. I’m not familiar with that many Carmens on DVD or CD but always had a soft spot for the Karajan/Leontyne Price version.

    • How good to hear from another opera fan, though I have to admit that Wagner and Strauss are lowish on my favourites list. However we are booked for Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne this summer. I have a memory of seeing/hearing Leontyne Price at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in the 1970s as Aida, but I have just checked my early programmes and couldn’t find her, though I didn’t always keep them then… just checked our old LPs. We have a Karajan Aida, but not with Price, but we have her singing Trovatore with Mehta conducting. I shall listen tomorrow.

  2. Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne: a little envy creeps into my psyche. I’ve never seen it live but have seen snippets on YouTube, a couple of PBS showings in the 1980s and the Karajan/Tomowa-Sintow DVD. Did Leontyne Price ever sing Rosenkavalier? BTW thanks for stopping by my blog. I look forward to reading more of your opera posts.

  3. Yes, we are very lucky to have a relative who is a Glyndebourne member and takes us every year. I see opera there that I wouldn’t normally to attend and they are nearly always superb and enlarge my musical interests. No Price never sang Rosenkavalier (except on a Strauss songs LP), though she apparently said she wished she had. Our next Opera is Faust at the Royal Opera House, but sadly Anna Netrebko has pulled out of the role, saying it don’t feel right for her.

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