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.

Carmen in the Garden

Carmen, with an orchestra of 6 and a cast of 6 in a marquee in the grounds of a beautiful house (Thurston End Hall) in the wilds of Suffolk.

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A balmy summer evening, a garden smelling of roses, everyone picnicking happily on the grass, (very high quality Portaloos), and an entertaining, well sung interpretation of Carmen. This was in English (which I don’t usually like) but as they had set it in a New York bar with a boxing theme, it worked perfectly and I heard every word. Escamillo, the Toreador, was a boxer. Carmen, Frasquite and Remendado were immigrant siblings running a bar. And Jose was a new police recruit with a murky past, while his commander, Zuniga, ran a protection racket. This cast of six managed to be chorus and all parts, it was impressive, fun and wonderful to hear. The orchestra created amazing effects.