I am floored by the difference between a well-conceived and brilliantly acted production of Carmen and one that isn’t. I thought that Bizet’s music and the tragic Carmen story had transcended La Scala’s miserable production that debuted last month. I didn’t like the production, but I enjoyed parts of it even though other parts turned me off. But having seen the Met ‘s impressive production today, I realize that I was just making excuses for parts that never quite fit together.
I’m not talking about the singing. I’m talking about opera singers who can act, and who are directed to act in a believable manner, and who have the chemistry to pull off this classic story. Roberto Alagna may be a soprano’s nightmare–he’s very touchy, and he seems to kiss for real instead of faking, which must be difficult for a soprano who needs to catch her breath so she can keep singing. But he’s also believable as Don Jose in a way that more restrained singers are not. Delectable Jonas Kaufmann did his best for La Scala, but he also did all the work in that relationship; his Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili, was not credible as a seductress. Elina Garanca was today. She brought a convincing sexual confidence to her every motion that totally trumphs Rachvelishvili’s effort. I was impressed.
Ironically, Kaufmann is slated to replace Alagna in the Met production, and some lucky operagoers will be able to compare Kaufmann’s turn in New York with what he did in Milan. Then perhaps we’ll discover if it is the acting, the chemistry, or the particular production that is the key element. Or if they can’t be separated.
Regardless, the Met’s production is a Carmen to remember.