Carmen - Royal Opera House, 6 October 2009
The sizzle may have fizzled from Roberto Alagna's marriage, but he can still hot it up on stage. The chemistry between his Don José and Elina Garanča's Carmen is the main thing going for this otherwise tepid revival of Francesca Zambello's wannabe-West End extravaganza. Despite all the fussy, overpopulated action and assorted live animals Zambello packs between the curvaceous terracotta walls of Tanya McCallin's sets, this Carmen only really takes off when the two of them are together.
Without resorting to the usual strutting heroics seen in this role, Roberto offers a rough-edged but remarkably subtle portrayal of a dutiful soldier flipped from upright to horizontal by his obsessive passion for the stunning Garanča. He's neither as hawt nor as thrilling as Jonas Kaufmann (can't wait to catch him in La Scala's prima live on the big screen) was a couple of years back but then who is?
Garanča is more problematical. Carmen needs a bit of dirt under her fingernails, and no, an elegant smudge of brown greasepaint is not the same thing. Her agile, honeyed voice is elegance personified; there's little to suggest an earthy gypsy heart beating beneath.
She squirmed awkwardly through the first act, dry-humping everything in Zambello's overstuffed Spanish square from the horse trough to the village idiot like a randy Yorkshire Terrier. Fortunately the matadors didn't turn up till the last act, or she'd have been picking sequins out of her ladybits for weeks. But by this time she's swapped her thigh rubbing and bosom heaving for a more refined life as Escamillo's escort. Her transformation was maybe too complete - I wanted to hear the coarse gypsy beneath the buttoned exterior - but the final showdown with Don José was compelling stuff.
The rest of the cast were underwhelming. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's Escamillo was even less animated than the docile horse he made his entrance on. Liping Zhang's Micaëla was underplayed. Only Eri Nakamura's lively Frasquita made any impact. Bertrand de Billy held things together, no more, in the pit.
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