There was wall-to-wall applause after tonight's Carmen premiere at La Scala - except for director Emma Dante, whose appearance provoked an eruption of loud boos. From my seat in the Covent Garden Odeon it was hard to understand why. Perhaps the heavy dose of Catholic symbolism offended. Or the rapey ending - but frankly that loooong final duet needs something to liven it up, and her solution is a plausible one. Or maybe it was the shortage of castanets and thigh-rubbing. Who knows.
Her production wasn't always coherent, but there was plenty to cheer. She drew superb acting from the whole cast - the mark of a solid theatre director. I loved what she did with that perennial problem Micaela, turning her into the messages she bears Don Jose - first the bride, then his sick mother. And even scenery fetishists can't have been too disappointed with the mostly realistic locations and the intricate, colourful costumes.
Jonas Kaufmann's Don Jose was the big draw though, and he didn't disappoint. Beneath his billowing shirt, an immaculately waxed chest was revealed by Act 2's close up cameras, as expertly pummelled by Anita Rachvelishvilli's surprisingly terrific Carmen below. Oh, and he sang pretty well too.
The secondary attraction, Erwin Schrott's Escamillo, was less successful. Too many notes off target, and too many clothes.
With multiple camera angles and zooms sensitively deployed, it was technically the best live opera screening I've seen. Pit close-ups revealed the principal flautist's werewolf hands and even better, Barenboim tweaking out a wedgie (at agonising length) before settling in for the prelude. And the cameras' silent zoom around La Scala's plush-lined burrows and their jewel-draped occupants was far more revelatory than a fancy Met-style 'intermission feature'.
Pity about the sound, which was too low in the first act and too loud afterwards, but I suspect that was the Odeon's fault not the film crew's. Of course no cinema acoustics can possibly hope to replicate the live sound - the big drawback of all movie-opera.