Almost a Classic

The Metropolitan Opera’s interpretation of Bizet’s “Carmen” sets the tone of lust and passion from the very beginning. The play opens with an intimate dance scene between a couple, with a dim red light and seductive movements. Their faces cannot be seen, so the viewer focuses on the movements of the eye-capturing dance and the outline of the dancer’s bodies as they perform their smooth choreography.

Photo Credits to Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

However, as act one begins, the acting is not believable and the opera loses that tone. When coming out of work, the cigarette girls merely sit there, and the soldiers stand and appear to talk amongst themselves. They do not act interested in each other and fail to carry on that passionate atmosphere that the opening dance scene created. But Carmen, played by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili brings the act back to life. She sings her aria (Habanera) well, hitting all the notes with a colorful tone. She entices the soldiers, flashing her legs and moving her dress around, but still was not as flirtatious as expected from a Carmen.

Even with Rachvelishvili’s minimal flirting, she still mesmerizes Don Jose, played by tenor Yonghoon Lee, and convinces him to set her free after her arrest in the end of the first act. For the rest of the play, he is crazed and Lee’s acting matches this perfectly through his movements and emotion. In the second act, Lee’s singing (La fleur que tu m’avais jetee) outshines Carmen’s aria from the first act. He hits all notes and stays strong throughout the opera, while Carmen seems to fall off slightly at the end from a long performance. Even Micaela’s (played by soprano Kate Royal) singing of Je dis que rien outdoes Carmen’s singing. Micaela’s voice carried better and had a softer color, fitting the aria perfectly. It was however a challenge trying to follow the words of a song and the acting. Looking from translation to the far away stage made it difficult to follow the opera. Not being able to see facial expressions also took away from the acting and emotion.

Photo Credits to Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The set of the opera throughout all four acts was very innovative and well made. The square in Seville looked realistic and the innovation involved with the rotation of the set surprised me. The door in the stage that the cigarette girls came out of and how the characters interacted with the rotating set was creative. The mountain set also was a nice touch, with rocks and dimmed lighting as well to mimic the nights in the mountains. How the actors interacted with the set by jumping on rocks or climbing up the steps of the mountain also added to the story.

Concluding with the fourth act, the acting came crashing down. Though the vocals were still shining, matched by a fantastic orchestra throughout the play, the acting was an anti-climax. Everything builds up tension to Carmen’s death, but her death was very badly portrayed. The act of stabbing her, along with her acting as if she was dying looked more like she was falling asleep. It was supposed to be a brutal, passionate murder of a lover, and the scene did not come close to that emotion due to Rachvelishvili’s acting. Not even Lee’s crazed emotion and madness could make the scene more realistic. This ending practically lost the entire emotion and flow of the opera. The fantastic orchestra, innovative set and the shining Yonghoon Lee could not make up for some unrealistic acting, fading vocals and could not bring the opera to a spectacular performance level.

Photo Credits to Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera


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