BIZET Carmen Garanca Nézet-Séguin DVD 0734581

With help from the Met's turntable, he and set and costume designer Rob Howell create a fluid, unglamorous production that keeps our attention focused on the principals as their tragic story unfolds. Of course it would be hard to turn one's attention anywhere else when the two leads are performed by singers as compelling as mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca and tenor Roberto Alagna. Garanca, a tall, strikingly beautiful and fast-rising star from Latvia, sings with alluring tone and captures the gypsy Carmen's sexual swagger and self-confidence . . . [Alagna] is totally at home in the role of Don Jose, creating a searing portrayal of an upright soldier undone by his feelings, first smoldering with passion and later with jealousy and rage . . . most of his singing was exemplary . . . As the bullfighter Escamillo, Don Jose's rival, the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien could serve as a dictionary illustration for the word ''dashing,'' . . . The excellent Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli brings warmth and sensitive phrasing to her portrayal of Micaela . . . There's much to admire in an unusually strong supporting cast, with bass Keith Miller a particular standout at Zuniga. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon contributes an effective flamenco-style number for the tavern scene and also two evocative pas de deux beautifully danced during the preludes to Acts 1 and 3 by Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey. Much of the evening's success is due to the inspired conducting of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, a young French-Canadian making his Met debut. From the whirlwind pace of the opening measures, Nezet-Seguin displays a rare sureness of touch and an ability to shape the lyrical and dramatic elements of the score into a unified whole. . . .

Elina Garanca's cool beauty and sultry mezzo have made her one of Europe's hottest opera stars . . . this remarkable artist has risen to a leading position through a powerful combination of factors: technically a highly proficient vocalist, she is also an outstanding actress blessed with film-star looks. For Carmen, it looks very like the full suit. Garanca has thus far applied her lithe, well-projected voice to a skillfully selected group of roles . . . Luminous and finely schooled, Garanca's instrument . . . makes a proper impact in big houses and always sounds ample to the task in hand. Its lucid exterior rests on secure reserves of handsome, full-bodied tone and has proved eminently adaptable . . . [Alagna, Garanca]: the two of them blazed together, rising in the final scene to a hair-raising account of one of opera's great tragic confrontations. There was clearly a rapport between the two artists, who flung themselves and each other around the stage in a way that opera singers seldom dare to do.

We all know Bizet's "Carmen," or think we do . . . In the naturalness of the performances, from that of the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca in the title role to those of the children in the chorus who scamper into the town square to watch the changing of the guard, it is clear that Mr. Eyre has lavished attention on everyone. The singers benefited immensely from the work of the rising 34-year-old Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in his Met debut, who led a bracing, fleet and fresh account of the score, although he started the rousing prelude at a breakneck, frenetic tempo . . . Garanca, best known for her vocally lustrous and agile performances of Rossini. The production provides an ideal context for Ms. Garanca¿s nuanced, sexy and cagey portrayal . . . she sings with rich sound, an unerring feel for the nuance and subtext of a phrase, and alluring sensuality. The clarity in her singing makes this Carmen seem intelligent and wily. A lovely blonde, Ms. Garanca, 33, is captivating in her curly black wig . . . Don José remains one of his strongest roles. The grainy texture of his sound mingles well with the nasal colors of the French language. He sings with an involving blend of intensity and refinement . . . The soprano Barbara Frittoli is wonderful as the good-hearted and constant Micaëla . . . the Italianate richness of her voice makes her Micaëla seem a young woman of courage and determination. And she appears achingly vulnerable with her sensible wool coat and brown satchel. The baritone Mariusz Kwiecien absolutely looks the part of the dashing, cocky toreador Escamillo, a role that straddles the bass-baritone divide. After an uneven "Toreador Song," music that takes him to the weaker, lower register of his voice, he sang with robust sound and panache. The bass Keith Miller was a standout as the wily officer Zuniga. The choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has created fetching dances for this production, especially in the tavern scene, in which the Gypsies for once refrain from generic, exotic twirling and do some nifty, rhythmically intricate tapped steps . . . I have never seen the final scene, in which the crazed Don José stabs the fatalistically defiant Carmen, executed with such stunning realism, a dangerous mingling of sex, rebellion and violence: the very essence of "Carmen."

. . . [Elina Garanca] conquered the Met with a performance of vibrant sexiness as the gypsy cigarette girl with too great a capacity for love . . . Rob Howell gives Miss Garanca the sexiest of designer frocks to complement her flowing jet black hair, generally showing as much cleavage as possible . . . The ballets are both balletic and raunchy and set the scene for an opera combining Bizet's rousing music, conducted by another highly successful Met debutant, Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Prosper Mérimée's story of illicit love long before it became fashionable . . . Miss Garanca shows off her lovely mezzo, quickly using it to seduce Alagna's Corporal Don Jose but also almost every man in town (and dare one suggest it, the opera house) . . . Most eyes and ears though will be on the leading pair and . . . they make a lovely couple. They also know how to sing and assisted by Sir Richard Eyre's exciting staging, ensure that this Carmen will long live in the memory.

A modern Carmen strode across the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on New Year¿s Eve as the company presented a smart new production starring Elina Garanca . . . Even at her most seductive, Garanca¿s Carmen had a snarky quality. Wounded in a catfight, she coolly flashed a bloody inner thigh at tenor Roberto Alagna, who shared the stage as the uptight Don Jose . . . Alagna looked trim in his uniform . . . bringing real power to his pathetic attempts to regain the love of a woman who¿s moved on . . . Conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin . . . elicited a peppy, detailed performance from the stalwart orchestra. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created youthfully sexy dances that were actually fun to watch . . .

. . . that I was blown away would be an understatement . . . It's rare to encounter an old warhorse from the operatic repertoire like Carmen and feel that you are seeing it with fresh eyes and hearing it with fresh ears, but that's just what this production does . . . Eyre, Nézet-Séguin and their cast have connected with Bizet's work on a fundamental, almost primal, level, returning to its original roots as a saga of both the catastrophic nature of sexual desire and the fact that the gods have plans for us that nothing we do can ever change . . . The brilliance of Eyre's production -- and one reason it should looking smashing on screen -- is that while presenting us with a giant canvas to take our breath away, he's also able to concentrate on the intense moments of personal drama at the eye of the hurricane . . . After seeing Elina Garanca as Carmen, it truly seems as if she has staked a claim on the role for years to come. Not only is her vocal delivery supple, yet powerful, but her sensuality, physical freedom and sense of woman-as-destroyer are unmatched. Eyre (with his choreographer Christopher Wheeldon) has filled the show with dance, but not gratuitously, using it as the natural outpouring of the Spanish soul, and Garanca is front and centre, giving her all, in many of these sequences. Roberto Alagna also hits the heights as Don José, with his rich tenor tones ringing out with just the right combination of lust and anguish, while his handsome face dissolves from vain assurance to defeated madness.
The rest of the cast, including Barbara Frittoli's heartbreaking Micaëla, also rise to the heights Eyre has set for them. The opera's final moments, however, are when it leaps into true greatness, with Eyre following the death of Carmen to reveal a logical yet chillingly unexpected tableau. I won't ruin it for you, but once you've seen it, you will never think of Carmen the same way again. Don't miss it.

Elina Garanca is the personification of Carmen de nos jours. She is suitably young, tall and her piercing blue-eyes against long black and extravagantly curly hair . . . made her strikingly beautiful in the lingering close-ups of the Latvian mezzo . . . she embodied the bold, sexual self-confidence of the Gypsy 'on heat' without rehashing for the umpteenth time, the accreted stage action associated with the character . . . Never throughout the demands of her performance do you see Garanca lose any sense of the character she is portraying and reveal the 'mechanics' of an opera performance. She is a consummate singer-actor and her nuanced tones fix attention on her rebelliousness, fickleness, passion and fatalism right through to her death at the hands of her rejected and desperate lover . . . [Roberto Alagna] almost matches Garanca's performance in being totally at ease with his role as Don José. He is however better, in terms of both acting and singing, from later on in Act II and thereafter with his smouldering passion, lust, rage and murderous jealously than when portraying the inhibited, inexperienced 'mummy's boy' soldier . . . he had plenty of stamina for the angst and anger of the final scene. . . . the Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli brings warmth, exquisite phrasing and a purity of tone to her portrayal of Micaëla . . . The supporting cast is also particularly strong; bass Keith Miller is particularly effective as the arrogant Zuniga and Elizabeth Caballero and Sandra Piques Eddy are assured and engaging as Frasquita and Mercédès . . . [Yannick Nézet-Séguin] set a fast tempo from the very beginning but retained throughout a confident grasp of the work's lyrical and dramatic elements. Everything built coherently to a gripping climax as the catastrophic nature of sexual desire reaped its victims.

. . . a compelling singer and skilled actress, exuded sexuality . . . [Garanca broght] raw realism and sultry allure to this touchstone role . . .

. . . this director can get straight to the heart of any opera he produces. He has done that with Carmen, restoring life to a character too often reduced to an ethnic profile or sex object. Through detailed gestures, expressive poses and something approaching choreography, his direction focused on the character's charm and appeal, which, combined with her palpable drive and recklessness, kept the viewer poised between delight and dread. How fully this concept would come to life without the charismatic Elina Garanca in the title role is a good question . . . the lyric mezzo seemed as much at ease with the character's wiles as with the florid demands of the vocal writing . . . she brought energy and beauty to just about every move -- even the gymnastically styled murder scene with the equally agile Roberto Alagna. Garanca portrayed a youthful, mercurial, sexy/sporty Carmen whose freshness and exuberance were a rare delight in this role. She seemed to enjoy toying with a host of objects and articles of clothing for expressive purposes; she also turned other characters into props, playing off both her suitors and her female friends with comic flair . . . Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin's lyrical approach showered attention on instrumental details in the richly colored score, but the pace became slack by the final act, apparently to accommodate the singers . . . Alagna made Don José a fully realized, tormented character. Impeccable French diction lent his portrayal strong authenticity. Barbara Frittoli's lovely soft-grained timbre was gracefully deployed in Micaela's quieter passages.

The new Carmen, Elina Garanca, turns in a performance of great subtlety and depth . . . Garanca's voice is light and beautiful from top to bottom and she never pushes it . . . her Carmen is a sensation. The fact that she's beautiful certainly helps and the camera loves her . . . Roberto Alagna is wonderful in the part [of Don José] . . . His final scene is a study in lunacy. Vocally, he is in fine shape . . . from a big, fast opening Prelude [Nézet-Séguin] moves to a far more intimate, textured, indeed, very French approach.

Garanča's voice is beautiful from top to bottom and she never pushes it. Set in this production, with a remarkably sympathetic conductor, her Carmen is a sensation. The fact that she's beautiful certainly helps, and the camera loves her . . . [Roberto Alagna]: Vocally, he is in fine shape . . . he makes up for this with intelligent, nuanced phrasing (the B-flat at the close of the Flower Song is approached and hit at a whisper) and, of course, exquisite French enunciation. Baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes makes a handsome, full-of-himself Escamillo, and he deals with the wide tessitura of his song with ease and acts convincingly. He's fierce in the third act when he challenges José and is sensual in the last. Barbara Frittoli's Micaela is a bit mature, both vocally and physically, but she convinces anyway. Keith Miller is a terrific, dark-toned Zuniga, and the others in the cast are splendid. The children's chorus never has sounded (or acted) better. Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin easily could be considered as the star: from a big, fast opening prelude he moves to a far more intimate, textured, indeed very French approach. There are dozens of small details to relish, and for once the last-act prelude does not sound like cats knocking over trash cans. Christopher Wheeldon's choreography includes two ravishing moments during the soft preludes to Acts 1 and 3 ¿ pas de deux brilliantly lit by Peter Mumford (the first in blood red, the second in iridescent blue) and danced by Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey . . . Sound and picture are all one could ask for.

The soul is in the details. Just watch, for Instance, José's "Flower Song" where Garanča first realises with dread that this man will never relinquish her, then smiles at the power this gives her - they are both at once victim and tyrant . . . each individual element matches the excellence of the others . . . Elīna Garanča is a natural choice for Carmen . . . She certainly has the personality for the part, sensual, seductively sung but with an underlying chilly hauteur . . . Garanča has a fine sparring partner in Roberto Alagna ¿ both roles are as well acted as they are sung.

. . . Yannick Nézet-Séguin has a superb cast at the Met with Elīna Garanča as the sultry Seville factory girl, tenor Roberto Alagna as her would-be-lover, and NZ baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the swaggering Escamillo.

Elina Garanca's clean-cut Baltic mezzo and fresh good looks suggest not the stereotypical gypsy wench, but a free spirit, intelligent and wilful, her apparently capricious sexuality a declaration of independence -- the rock on which José breaks. Roberto Alagna, admirably lyrical . . . plays him as an amiable naïf totally bewildered by the ferocious passions she awakens.

. . . [conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin] gives an enthusiastic reading . . . Garanca sings at the high level we have come to expect from her . . . Alagna is at his best, singing with intensity.

Everyone in the cast is impressive. The principals all have solid, attractive voices and their acting has clearly been given a very high priority. In the title role, Elina Garanca carries the greatest dramatic weight in this superbly directed production. Garanca is a beautiful and extraordinarily manipulative Carmen. Playful, sarcastic, restless, independent and haughty by turns, she is above all sexy. She sings well, too, delivering the Habanera and Seguidilla with seduction and subtleness, but giving her all in the no-holds-barred final scene. As the weak-willed Don José, Roberto Alagna is perfectly cast, delivering a spontaneous, intensely moving performance. The repression required in the first two acts came easily to him, as he perfectly communicated his character¿s vulnerability and obsession. His heartfelt duet with Micaëla in Act One was full of youthful vitality, while his Act Two `Flower Song¿, ending with a fully expressive pianissimo B flat, was completely disarming. In the final scene he acted and sang with remarkable abandon as he convincingly portrayed his character¿s desperation. As the faithful and good-hearted Micaëla, Barbara Frittoli gave a warm and touching portrayal, singing her Act One duet with Don José with appropriately girlish innocence . . . Mariusz Kwiecien¿s commanding baritone combined with his darkly handsome looks and elegant carriage made a charming and convincing Escamillo. He sang with rich, virile tone and stylish assurance, delivering the `Toreador Song¿ with enough panache to turn it into an appealing narrative. Among an unusually strong supporting cast Keith Miller was a standout as Zuniga. For the tavern scene choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has created a rousing flamenco-style dance in which the dancers, clad by costume designer Rob Howell, looked like real, cave-dwelling gypsies. And solo dancers Ashley Tuttle and Keith Roberts, making their Met debuts, displayed extraordinary harmony and grace in the two fervent pas de deux they danced during the Preludes to Acts One and Two. Howell¿s sets and costumes managed to avoid clichés and do justice to the story by aiming for the heart of the drama . . . Peter Mumford¿s lighting was particularly effective in Act Two, where the smuggler¿s hideout was most effectively shrouded in blue mist; and in Act Four where the bright lights coming from inside the bullring contrasted with the sinister events taking place outside. Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a spirited, clean-cut account of Bizet¿s marvelously melodic score, full of delicate colors and always sensitive to the demands of the drama as well as the needs of the singers.

[DVD]: Yannick Nézet-Seguin dirigiert das Met-Orchester mit Schwung, Präzision und Wissen um dramatische Wirkung . . . Die naturalistischer Filmästhetik verpflichtete Inszenierung Richard Eyres ist packend, unterhaltend und in der psychologischen Zeichnung der Figuren stimmig. Das Schussbild ist ein echter Coup.

Die beiden Stars haben im letzten Jahr an einigen Häusern demonstriert, wie gut sie in Bizets Oper aufeinander eingespielt sind . . . José [gibt] nicht nur gradlinige Leidenschaft, sondern singt das hohe B in seiner Blumenarie sogar mit aparter "voix mixte" . . . Yannick Nézet-Séguin dirigiert mit Detailelan und Sinn für Kantabilität.