A Magnificent Setup for a Lamentable End

The stage and orchestra were filled with talents for Georges Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen, in the Metropolitan Opera. Immediately the orchestra played a familiar melody from Habanera, drawing the audience into the play even before the actual performance began. The music was dynamic, eloquent and powerful, preparing us to witness the best of the best. If that wasn’t enough, a well-choreographed modern, sensually seductive dance (duet) interpreting the central theme of Carmen introduced us to the supposed masterpiece.

The Metropolitan Opera stage seemed like a castle as it rotated to the stage of Act I in Carmen. It was amazing to see how easily and efficiently the stage could transform in front of the audience. Not only the stage, the performers’ costumes were wonderfully designed, making them appeared as if they were really cigarette workers and officers back in the mid-19th century in Seville, France. The women wore dirty light clothes of grey and brown colors that looked similar to rags; the male workers wore jean overalls and a tainted t-shirt inside; the officers had fresh green uniforms and boots on, giving off a sense of high status and power in the cigarette factory; and finally Carmen, she had a flashy polka-dotted dress that was tied on the upper part. The dress was purple and obviously unique compared to the other cigarette girls. She stood out, but her costume was not glamorous either. The dress was also suitably dirty like the other cigarette girls, just more colorful.

Anita Rachevelishvili as Carmen. Photo credits to Marty Sohl from The Metropolitan Opera.

The costumes for Carmen certainly were appealing and fitting, but what would an opera be without singing? The first great solo was of course sung by the mezzo-soprano singer, Anita Rachevelishvili, who performed the flirtatious gypsy Carmen. She was magnificent in Act I, singing with emotions and seductiveness that dazzled the audience. After over two hours of singing, her voice seemed to have lost its vitality by Act IV. Rachevelishvili’s acting and role play was still top notched; however, her voice did not match up. It was weaker and much less pronounced than she was in Act I and II. In contrast, the softer and sweeter character Micaela, played by the soprano singer Kate Royal, performed her arias and acting splendidly throughout. Royal sang with a voiced that sounded natural to the situation she was in; her voice was shaken and scared when she was surrounded by the officers in Act I and jubilant in Act III in her sweet duet with Don Jose, played by the Korean tenor singer Yonghoon Lee. But the most prominent singer was certainly Don Jose. Lee did not lose grip of his vocals from the beginning to end. His duet Parle-Moi De Ma Mère with Royal in Act I was heartfelt; in the final moments of Act IV, the audience could feel the anguish and despair from his booming and powerful voice in the duet, “C’est toi? C’est moi!” The contrast from the vitality of Lee’s singing to the exhaustion in Rachevelishvili’s was too evident.

We went in to a spectacle but went out feeling almost defeated. The way Act IV’s ending was executed was major disappointment; it could even be called anti-climactic. The tensions were set from the beginning when Jose was imprisoned for aiding Carmen’s escape, which eventually led to Jose’s fall from grace as he ended up with a group of thieves but not with Carmen’s love. At this point in Act IV where Jose’s anger and jealousy was about to explode, the audience would be expecting an extraordinary modern interpretation of the famous scene–Carmen’s death. Our expectations, however, were returned with an insipid and tensionless scene as Carmen was stabbed to death by Don Jose. It might seem dramatic for Carmen to state “Kill me or let me go” without singing in an opera (it was the first time a line was not sang but simply spoken). But what happened to the climax? A bland declaration stated like that without the aesthetics of opera singing was like hitting a wall before leaving the climatic highway.

Don Jose (Yonghoon Lee) threatening the exhausted Carmen (Anita Rachevelishvili) with a knife. Photo credits to Ken Howard from The Metropolitan Opera.

This entry was posted in Carmen. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply