Carmen: The Highs and Lows

A vibrant and energetic orchestra playing familiar Bizet compositions carries the audience through the roller coaster ride that was Carmen at the famous Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The stage is set in 19th century Seville, and starts off outside a cigarette factory in which a slender woman named Micaela seeks her love, Don Jose. She is shown to be wearing a plain dress, painting an image of innocence. She was one of the standout performers of the night. Katie Royal (soprano) provided a much needed balance between singing quality, emotion, and dancing ability. Royal was able to maintain her voice and fully convey her emotions through body language at the same time. Whether she was trying to wrestle herself away from an overly touchy army officer or having a moment of intimacy with Don Jose (Yonghoon Lee), the audience knew exactly how she was feeling, and the language barrier became unimportant.

Another bright spot was the formidable tenor Yonghoon Lee. His booming, yet smooth voice rang through the hall, and boy did the audience respond with some well-deserved applause near the end. Mr. Lee was the ideal Don Jose. His demeanor was one of strength when it had to be, but he was effortlessly able to transfer into the body and mindset of a lover, desperate for reciprocation from Carmen. A prime example of this was the last portion in which he kills Carmen. He is able to regress from bitter disappointment to hopelessness in a matter of seconds, all noticeable from his body language. He kneels, and his head hangs loose, devoid of any self-control. At the end of this opera, the audience was able to feel the same anguish that Don Jose was feeling, which is an essential task to any performer. The fact that the audience was able to relate to his emotions was a great addition to the successful performance of Yonghoon Lee.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, playing the title role. While there is not much to complain about, she did not provide the same “oomph” and enthusiasm as Lee and Royal.  There come certain points in every performance where someone’s voice may waver, or come out louder than expected. In addition to some expected vocal issues, however, this portrayal of Carmen seemed a little too wild and powerful, not providing enough of the elegance and soft beauty that is expected from the role. An audience expects anyone portraying Carmen to have two sides: one wild and one soft and loving. While there were certain instances in which she seemed full of loving emotion, rage and clever antics were the staple characteristics of this specific performance.

The ups and downs of individuals did not take away from the grandeur of it all. The curtains open, revealing a glowing red light and passionate ballet dance follows. This occasional interjection of ballet is an insight to the sentiments being felt by Carmen and Don Jose. The performance started with a passionate ballet dance, and ended with the dead bull symbolizing the end of Carmen’s life at the end of Don Jose. The bull provided perspective, and placed the life of Carmen parallel to that of a bull. She was pulled in many different directions, primarily between her love interests Don Jose and Escamillo (baritone Tahu Rhodes).

Choreographer Chris Wheeldon does an exceptional job of utilizing the entire rotating edifice that is the cigarette factory. With kids weaving in and out of small corridors and good spacing, the depth of the stage was used very well.

Richard Eyre’s vision of Carmen was one of passion and symbolism. He was able to keep to the original meaning and maintain the original integrity of the play while adding small variations that added to the overall experience.

Before the Performance Began

 Credit: Navtej S. Ahuja

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