Carmen: A Bull That is Yet to Be Tamed

In Spain, the men try to tame bulls. In New York’s Metropolitan Opera, they try to tame Carmen.

Built upon the fervent, feisty, cunning title character, Carmen is a three-hour-long opera that dives headfirst into the profound struggle between love and jealousy; manipulation and destiny. The Met’s revival of Georges Bizet’s 1875 production marks the merging of opera and theater, with the hefty, Georgian Anita Rachvelishvili as its centerpiece.

She makes her loud debut in Act I, when she first appears strutting out of a cigarette factory in Seville, Spain. Against the other factory girls—all thin and dainty and clad in mute earthy pastels—Ms. Rachvelishvili produces a sultry voice that flutters gracefully between the highs and lows, although far from clean and proper. It provides quite a contrast against the tender, pallid voice of Kate Royal, who plays Micaela, a peasant girl.

The environment captivates the audience as much as Rachvelishvili’s stage presence does. The walls, a glowing cerulean blue, and a circular arrangement of weathered arches gives the set a Mediterranean palette, which is an excellent visual supplement to the libretto, which is sung in French. The costumes of the soldiers (which, by the way marched in perfect unison in the beginning of Act 1), the townspeople and the buoyant crowd of children was a cluster of olive, khaki, and pale pastels. Although some blend in with the weathered arches, it allows for the eye to easily spot Carmen, even for someone sitting in the very last row of the house. In addition, the set opens and closes with a translucent red lightning bolt on a black background—a classy trademark.

One of the most powerful scenes in the performance unfolds when Carmen throws a rose at Don Jose (Yonghoon Lee), a corporal and Micaela’s beau. It serves as a foreshadowing of a strong theme: love kills. The drama heightens as Carmen’s voice is infiltrated with power and dignity, as she dominates Don Jose in this scene. Conductor Michele Mariotti coordinated a symphony that brought a trance to the swaying, almost hypnotized movements of the men surrounding Carmen.

Act II was anything but bland; here we are introduced to Escamillo the bullfighter. Kyle Ketelsen is poised and plays the part of Escamillo with duende; his voice takes on a rich, deeply vibrant texture, especially in Act II when he flirts with Carmen. His wiry bone structure paired with Carmen’s full-figure makes for an interesting dialogue in the chemistry of their body languages. Carmen reaches yet another high point when she performs the gypsy dance. Clad in a beautiful, Spanish bohemian-style skirt, she and other gypsies light up the stage with a sultry unified suave in their step. Although Carmen is the dominant figure in most of the first two acts, Don Jose rises up with an assertive, masculine resonance in his baritone voice; we see Carmen conveying intimidation as her voice settles down to a passive, yet rich alto. For a moment, the audience is swept away by the subtle fragility in Don Jose’s tone as he attempts to prove his love for Carmen, and again when he first discovers that his mother is dying.

Act IV, the last and shortest act is one that suggests a powerful metaphor: the bull. Although the set could have been represented more clearly as a bullfighting arena, it was nonetheless bustling with the collective energy of the actors. In this act, we see the steepest change in Don Jose, as his character goes from collected to passionate to desperate. The drama reaches its peak when Carmen’s foretold fate begins to unfold: her voice is shrill, movements striking and tense (appropriately) as she finally proves to Don Jose that she no longer loves him. The final scene, after a chilling (but not melodramatic) death scene, is a striking revelation of a fallen, powerful symbol. The stage is drenched in brilliant red lightthis scene, and then the curtain closes, leaving the audience with a gruesome image of jealousy.

“Carmen” runs through March 1 at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center; (212) 362-6000,

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2 Responses to Carmen: A Bull That is Yet to Be Tamed

  1. Professor Bernstein says:

    So, you thought the ending worked?

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