Archive for August, 2012

Carmen directed by Calixto Bieito

August 6, 2012

During the last two weeks of June and early July, 2012, the legendary Teatro la Fenice di Venezia, was the stage for Carmen by Calixto Bieito. It was a first-class performance With a great cast of singers. Yet performing the same role in a densely packed schedule takes its toll. From the peaks of  Act One to the closing scene there were moments that somehow felt lacking in energy. Nothing went wrong.  It is just a personal impression  that  even the most provocative production from the top artists, if repeated over many days in a short period, carries a risk of coming across as routine. Or, it may be the effect of the broader context of a magnificent city, once vibrant with its own authentic life which today caters to a global tourist fantasy.   

photo by Hans-Jorg Michel

photo by Hans-Jörg Michel

In the title role was mezzo-soprano Beatrice Uria Monzon. Born in France , and educated there as a singer, in France,  Ms. Monzon performed her first Carmen almost 20 years ago.  Her Carmen today is an attractive, liberated woman, mature yet youthfully  foolish, inhabiting her body with surrendering abandon, confident in her natural beauty. Her Carmen needs no hair-styling, and her cloths are ordinary, more hiding  than revealing , allowing the sex appeal of her Carmen to come across subdued, yet powerful. Her singing  described as a “dark golden” voice,  was most electrifying in Act One.   

Aleksander Vinogradov as Escamillo rose to  stardom by reaching the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of 21. His presence on many of the main opera stages of the world has been received with praise and recognition.  The richness, clarity and depth of his voice infused his Escamillo with remarkable liveliness.

For Stefano Secco it was a début in the role of Don José. This young tenor from Milan is in the  fourth year of his international career. Before discovering his vocal talent he played drums. In 1995 he won the Competition for Young Opera Singers of Europe. This spring he was greeted by a Seattle opera audience in the role of Pinkerton. 

Ekaterina Bakanova, another young singer from Russia, appeared as Micaëla.  At the age of 28 she is capturing the attention of European critics and audiences as a rising soprano star. The Italian press praised her enthusiastically for this role.    

The première of this Carmen was in Barcelona two years ago. Whether it is the plot of Don Giovanni, Aida, or Carmen, Calixto Bieito finds the way to frame the story in images and contexts of the distressed contemporary world.

The opening of  Act One introduces a drunken man, long past his prime, sporting a thick golden chain and a wife-beater under his white suit, draws the attention of the audience by imitating a magician’s  trick stacking a red silk scarf in his fist. Instead of the illusionist’s effect, he exclaims: “L’amor és com la mort”       

Calixto Bieito carries on the story of extreme emotions in his merciless way without an aim to please the senses or portray passion with the usual colour.  Carmen’s  theme of love and death takes place in a void, barren space where only two relatively fixed structures exist: a flagpole and a telephone booth.   

Long before Mercedes-Benz cars were introduced to the stages of opera houses, this brand of car rose to the level of a status symbol of wealth and success. It was particularly favoured among dictators, high-end criminals and gypsies. Mercedes became a substitute for a gold tooth. So in Act Two the tavern, as indicated in the libretto, is another barren outdoor space to which Carmen, her friends and the officers gather arriving in a dusty Mercedes.  Plastic folding chairs, an artificial Christmas tree, and cases of beer are drawn from the trunk to recreate the gathering environment for communities rising around the milestones set up by flagpoles and telephone booths.

In Act Three the ominous silhouette of a giant black bull against the night sky hovers over a makeshift flea market of contraband merchandise. Such places can be seen today where beaten-up Mercedes of questionable provenance congregate under the newly designed flags on the flagpoles.    

The cheering crowd saluting the arrival of celebrated toreador Escamillo, revived the energy lost around the fleet of Mercedes in Act Three. It was a high point of this performance. It lasted long enough to allow for reflection about all cheering crowds, whether their joy is directed to a movie star arriving on Oscar night in Hollywood, a favourite soccer team, or a statesman attending a military parade. All cheering crowds have in common a joy projected outside. Like any other joy originating from illusion it fails to take root in the heart, leaving only a vague, dry picture in one’s memory lacking in flavour of liveliness once felt as real.      

What feels frightfully real is a bankrupt world that Calixto Bieito re-creates on the stage. It feels as a scandalous truth of the state of humanity today.