EXTRA FEATURES: Costume design ? How to fight on stage ? Illustrated synopsis ? The cast and their characters ? Choreographing Carmen ? The Gardens of Glyndebourne ? Booklet with new short story by novelist Jeanette Winter... more »son An exhilarating new Carmen from Glyndebourne. Director David McVicar describes Carmen as "the first ever musical", and in his new production, with Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role, Carmen is restored to the original Opera Comique as Bizet wrote it, stripping away subsequent re-workings which turned it into a grand opera. Philippe Jordan makes his Glyndebourne debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Glyndebourne Chorus and a cast that includes Marcus Haddock, Laurent Naouri and Lisa Milne.« less
"Possibly the world's most familiar opera, Bizet's "Carmen" has been sound-recorded countless times and exists in about 6 video versions. My favorite has been the DG set with Agnes Baltsa in the title role because of her humorous portrayal of the gypsy, the use of spoken dialogue and the fine sets used for this Metropolitan Opera production. Now I might have to put, if not above it, at least very near to it the BBC Opus Arte DVD of "Carmen" (OA 0868 D). On the negative side, both the Don Jose (Marcus Haddock) and the Escamillo (Laurent Naouri) are monochromatic actors, the first eternally angry, the second eternally pompous. I am afraid that Mr. Haddock simply does not look the part of the attractive officer, and his Micaela (Lisa Milne) looks a bit more matronly than "la petite." The sets on the Glyndebourne Festival Opera stage are squalid (the opening chorus may sing "Sur la place" but they are inside their barracks enclosed by metal fences) for the first three acts, forcing all the action downstage and crowding the chorus, to the detriment of any real movement. Act IV gives us only a blank wall outside the bull ring. When the men sing about how each of the girls has a cigarette between the teeth, the subtitles are silent because few of them are smoking. But that is only one of the two times I spotted a discrepancy between the words and the visual. The audience applauds only three or four of the numbers, possibly asked not to applaud at all for the sake of the video taping; but they are quite enthusiastic at the end of each act. Now for the good points and there are many. I don't think I ever heard as much of the spoken dialogue in any recording, so we are given much more information than usual about the characters. Indeed, every one of them is given a distinct personality, right down to Lillas Pastia. Carmen's two friends Frasquita (Mary Hegarty) and Mercedes (Christine Rice) could not be more different, one of them showing a bit more affection to Carmen than to the men. The Act III duel between Jose and Escamillo is given in the expanded version so that Jose is about to lose, but the toreador spares him chivalrously only to be bested afterward. The usually friendly character Morales is played here by Hans Voschezang as a black man with an attitude (rather than simply colorblind casting), which adds a dimension having nothing to do with the opera. Then again, having the children's marching song done as a taunt to the soldiers rather than an imitation does work. However, the main attraction of this set is the Carmen of Anne Sofie von Otter, a mezzo whose past roles would never have prepared us for what we see when she takes over this one and makes it entirely her own. Opera magazines were all abuzz about her performance and it is good of BBC to make it available to us so quickly. If you remember the Carmen of Julia Migenes-Johnson in the film version and her sizzling sexuality, you can put Otter's a few notches above it. In fact, Otter's Carmen is pretty close to the title character in the French film "La Femme Nikita"! You have to see it to believe it. Yes, there is a little too much groping at male crotches, but that is part of the director's (David McVicar) view of things. And yet,hers is a beautifully sung Carmen. In the Habanera, she is allowed to light a cigar during the refrain and mumble a bar or two, but she is always in character. This is the only Carmen I have seen who looks frightened at the end of Act III; and her death against the wall of the bull ring is by having her throat cut rather than being stabbed. All of this lingers in the mind long after viewing this DVD. Philippe Jordan conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus and cast with dramatic flair (at least when the camera is on him), and keeps things moving nicely. The opera itself is split onto two DVDs with some bonus material about the plot and characters at the end of disc 1 and about costumes, stage fighting, the music, and the Glyndebourne gardens at the end of disc 2. The one about costumes is especially interesting. The picture is in widescreen and the only subtitles are in English."
Raw, Visceral Carmen
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 08/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'll admit to huge reservations about one of my favorite mezzo's taking this role I never felt would be right for her, but Anne Sofie von Otter is the Carmen of one's dreams - or nightmares. A more gutter wenchy, ballbusting, shrewish, trash talking, vulgar Carmen I've never seen. To the critics who last summer asked "what man would ever want a woman like that?" all I can say is von Otter is so overtly sexual and raw that she makes Carmen something she has not been for me for a very long time - dangerously fascinating. This is not like any Carmen's I've seen the last last 20 years, coming more closely to Peter Brooks "Tragedie" - even outdoing it.
This Carmen is also one of the very best ensemble acted operas I've seen in ages and after one viewing is ready to be placed at the top of my DVD list.
To be sure, this will not be a Carmen to everyone's liking; it's rude, crude, violent, and emotionally dark - with an almost Dickensian quality that sends it and all its characters across the screen with a voltage that positively burns.
David McVicar's production was described as "exhilirating" and that is almost an understatement. This Carmen includes more dialogue than I ever recall hearing, making far more sense of the entire story and integrating every aspect into a taut, cohesive melodrama that I felt I was watching Carmen for the very first time.
Marcus Haddock fares far better as Jose than he did in the recent Met "Fausts" showing what, with real rehearsal time, good direction and collaboration he is capable of. It's not a voice that many would describe as beautiful, but he uses it with passion, attention to detail, text, and some exquisite shading (most notably in Jose's "Flower Song.")
This Jose and Carmen are like a bad habit for each other and Haddock reveals Jose's true violent streak letting it come out early on. The Act II fight between he and Zuniga may be the first time I literally worried someone would actually get hurt, and Zuniga getting up with blood coming out of his mouth had me, even for just a second, wondering if it was real! Haddock's later tangles with Escamillo and Carmen nearly get out of hand.
Even after he settles down to leave with Michaela, it's obvious this Jose has been pushed right over the edge and as they leave Michaela (portrayed nicely by the wonderfully fruity-voiced Lisa Milne) looks like she believes she may not make it home alive with this criminal. Frightening!
von Otter's Carmen really is so over-the-top that it nearly defies description. She smokes cigars (like a fiend) - even sings (or hums) part of the Habanera with one clenched in her teeth. Her entrance is fantastic; running down a flight of steps, hitting a fountain and washing up then plunging her head into the water to cool off. Everything she does is charged with a raw, sexual energy that is the complete obverse of refinement. Musically, she can, however, be quite refined, with amazing French and a bizarre ability to be both elegant and rude simultaneously. Her actions are never less than stunning, the way she devours an orange (biting one section out of Jose's mouth!) while singing or speaking, the smashing of a plate for her castanets, which she later tosses aside to play the rhythm on her thighs, breasts, Jose's legs, etc., all are eye popping. She's got a thousand different faces reacting to everything with . . . when Michaela shows up to rescue Jose in Act III and sings tenderly, von Otter looks like she's seeing someone from another planet, so foreign is Michaela's world from hers. Later in that same scene when her face registers, for the first time, fear, at Jose's madness, it is the stuff that chills one to the core. The characterization work she does extends far, far beyond her hip swinging, crotch grabbing obviousness - there is someone tortured in this Carmen who cries out she wants nothing more than to live "free" as she does - but she seems imprisoned in every way and her wildness almost seem like acts of desperate escapism gone wild. It is an amazing performance.
The DVD comes with some great features, photo galleries, biographies, a detailed narrated synopsis of each act with tons of production photos. Unlike most opera videos filmed over several (or more) performances, this is from one night at Glyndebourne August 17 2002 and has the energy that can only be found in a live performance. (How great that the producers saw fit to release this only months after it was taped!) I won't go overboard in describing every detail (for a change!), as I feel this really needs to be seen and I hope my obvious enthusiasm is helpful in getting folk out there to buy this thing and show the companies that we want more of this . . . lots more!
Engineers from hell.....
Nancy Eckert | Bellefontaine, OH USA | 03/18/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I would have been very happy to give this five stars. It's Bizet's original idea with spoken recititives and the French is darn good. Von Otter presents a very interesting, not only sexy, but erotic take on the role (also in line with Bizet's ideas) and everyone but Escamillo is excellent. So, okay, this Don Jose isn't Domingo, but neither is Domingo, no matter how much I love him. Excamillo's acting is just fine, but my preference is a bit more heft to the baritone. My only serious complaint and, thus, the three stars, is the sound, which is so bloody awful, I end up being my own sound engineer by tuning up and down constantly. At times, one can barely hear Von Otter over the crashing orchestra and this problem lies, in this case, with the engineers, not the conductor (unless I'm very much mistaken). The sets and costumes are wonderful and the whole production is delightful; if only I had heard it live...."
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 06/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Collectors of opera on dvd will definitely have to take a very attentive look at the BBC Opus Arte releases. This Carmen is a complete knock-out, looked at whatever angle you wish: musically, visually, presentation-wise, you name it. The performance was taped during last year's Glyndebourne Festival, Anne-Sofie von Otter was 46 (she was born in 1955) and at that wondrous age of feminine attractiveness, she became a tigress of a Carmen, a rôle few expected her to take on so successfully at that stage in her impeccable career.To begin with, forget about the classic dark-haired and -eyed castanets and peineta-clad cliché we've been seeing since time immemorial, as regards the Carmen character, and forget also about any misgivings you might have had on this hitherto often called "swedish ice queen" taking on a rôle so many supposedly "warmer-blooded" singers have so successfully brought on stage since the work saw the light over a century ago. What you have here is a fiery red-haired, blue-eyed, erotically super-charged whirlwind of a woman, on whom the world is centred since the very first moment we see her bursting on the upper part of the stage with a sonorous whistle. Von Otter is not only physically stunning to look at throughout, she'll also amaze you vocally and absolutely reinvents the character, a Carmen wholly of her own. I guess David McVicar, the enfant terrible of theatrical stages both sides of the Atlantic, has had his fair share in this rethinking of the character, but I doubt he'd been so successful had he had any other singer at hand.The other singers are no less good. I've read some complaints on Naouri's alleged aloofness as a signature of his Escamillo, to me he assumes dead-centre the characteristic pose and attitude any successful spanish bullfighter worth his salt will assume once his hitting it big-time, he really seems to know how a successful spanish bullfighter ought to behave. And he ends up thus being a truly superior impersonator of the rôle, impeccable also from the vocal side. The Don José is also very well characterised and sung, Haddock not only conveys the character's indecision, on one side longing for the world he left behind in his home town in Navarre and on the other this lustful, lascivous temptation of a new world Carmen offers for him to dip into. Micaela is proposed here as some sort of very proper and petite-bourgeois or middle class woman, somewhat past her best years and on her way to becoming some sort of spinster, a sincere and good-hearted human being but in the end the loser, the woman left behind by perhaps her own doing or as a consequence of her conventions, as the spanish saying goes, "left over to dress up images in the local church". You may prefer other impersonations that show her as a pure soul ready to sacrifice herself for the man she's loved for so long, but I'm perfectly ready to buy this variant. The other supporting rôles are well taken, the chorus work very well, even the kids who so noisily mock the troops' changing of the guards in the first act.The work is given in its original, Opéra Comique version, that is, with spoken dialogue between sung segments instead of the recitatives added later. This may prove a dangerous decision in non-french speaking countries, because if your singers are non-native speakers of the language, or at least have a better-than-average command of it, you may end up having them speaking some horrendously-sounding patois, and on the other hand having the audience left out in limbo, not understanding what's happening on stage. But here, o wonders of the new integrated Europe, you have a bunch of mostly british singers who surprisingly do achieve a more than passable utterance of one of those incomprehensible languages spoken beyond the channel, and on top of it, an audience who appear to actually understand! Naouri is of course a native french speaker, and french is one of the languages the versatile Von Otter speaks as fluently as her native swedish.Jordan's conducting is very much to the point throughout, with an acute sense of tempo and dynamics inffusing the performance from beginning to end, you'll have a hard time finding a better-conducted Carmen on shop shelves. Visually he's very distractive, recalling Georges Prêtre in his dancing, he makes faces, frowns, stops dead suddenly beating time or weaves the baton frantically, Furtwängler-like, opens his eyes as in utter wonderment whilst holding the baton like some sort of weapon. His stick technique looks erratic sometimes and must have been confusing to the musicians, who usually tend to take a cavalier look at these podium antics; I presume these LPO members must have had a difficult time getting used to that. But the end result is impeccable.Sound take is superior, as seems to be customary from this source, very realistic and theatre-like (some critics have complained on the singers being at times overshadowed by the orchestra, but isn't that what you do encounter when you listen to opera in the theatre and not just from recordings?), as is the video presentation. In sum, then, a must."
CARMEN THE WAY SHE WAS MEANT TO BE
Mr John Haueisen | WORTHINGTON, OHIO United States | 06/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are many available recordings of Carmen, but this has just become my favorite. Anne Sofie von Otter gives us the Carmen which I believe Bizet intended: a sensuous, titillating, sexy woman of every man's dreams, who warns all men that she lives for "right now"--don't try to change her or possess her.Von Otter remains in character throughout, singing to the characters on the stage, rather than to the audience, as so many singers do. This is both a good introduction to Carmen, in that it stays true to the story and faithful in its performance. It is also a fantastic Carmen for those who think they know Carmen--that there's nothing more to add to it. Indeed, there is: This Carmen will knock your socks off. She is involved in all the action on stage, reacting to all the other characters. We may have thought we knew Carmen, but Von Otter shows us we hadn't seen nothin' yet. The one negative I found in this production was the fault of the sound engineers. Sometimes I had to turn up the volume to hear some of the singers. Yet, considering the overall impression of the performance, this was a fault which was not intrusive. There were several good extras in this DVD set, including a tour of Glyndebourne Gardens, a primer on staging fights in operas (the difficulties of singing while wrestling), and a feature on how the costumes were made and chosen. There is also an illustrated synopsis, which makes it easy to introduce the story to new viewers.For those who enjoy watching conductors, you're in for a treat with this Carmen. Phillipe Jordan conducts with almost incredible bombast and dramatic flair--you'd swear he might spear his other hand with the sword-thrusts of his baton. It might be out of place elsewhere, but it seems strikingly appropriate in the epitome of drama: Carmen.I've enjoyed lots of performances of Carmen, but if I could see just one Carmen production, this would clearly be the one. It won't disappoint you."