The Met presented Carmen for the 403rd time in its HD series. Overall the company has performed Bizet’s opera about a gypsy who smokes 1,897,346,104 times since its first staging by the New York ensemble during its initial season. Actually, the Met first did Carmen in Boston where after a run of 2,000 shows it went to Brooklyn for another 1,000 stagings. It finally made it to Manhattan 2 days after it first appeared in Brooklyn. Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, recently announced a limited run of only 400 performances for the 2019-20 season. Given to innovation Mr Gelb said in a Buzzfeed interview that the cast for the upcoming run would be chosen by lot from the the audience and that practice would be repeated at each iteration of the nicotine addled gypsy. If successful, the casting by lot would be extended to La Traviata and La Boheme. It’s possible that the company’s entire repertory could be populated by this technique. Of course, there are union problems that need to be addressed, but as the company has only 60, these difficulties should be easy to resolve. An obvious gain from casting by lot would be reduced ticket prices. Alternatively, the salaries of stage hands and orchestra members could be increased. I almost forgot, the conductor also will be chosen from the audience.

Carmen has achieved the same status as the piano at the Paris Conservatory described by Hector Berlioz in his memoirs. The instrument had been used so often to perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G min that it started to play the concerto on its own. It was so persistent in this pursuit that it had to be taken to the conservatory’s courtyard where it was, like a very old dog, humanely put down. The Met’s orchestra is in the same situation as the Paris piano; it may start to play Carmen at any time. I recall a performance of Parsifal when despite the passionate entreaties of the conductor, I believe he was Fritz Stiedry, the orchestra began to play the Toreador’s song in the middle of the Good Friday Spell.  No Met GM has yet figured out how to stop the company’s orchestra from spontaneously bursting into Carmen. It’s possible that the Paris solution has been considered but not acted on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating orchestral euthanasia – just relating the facts.

So how was the show? OK. I’ve written about this production twice before today so there’s no reason to dwell further on it. The French mezzo Clémentine Margaine has given 21 performances at the Met, all as Carmen. Today was her first HD appearance. She’s got the role down pat. She hasn’t the figure for the role, but she has all the voice and inflection needed. Of the Carmens that have been on the HD series, Elina Garanca’s remains the all around most convincing.

Tenor Roberto Alagna was Don Jose as he was with Garanca both in Carmen and Samson et Dalila; the latter opera opened this season. Today he was in better voice than in the Saint-Saens, but the same could be said of my parrot Groucho. He’s also a tenor despite being female. But back to Alagna, he did very well up until the opera’s dramatic last scene when his voice had had enough and started to fray. By the opera’s conclusion it was almost in tatters. But before the murder scene he was in quite good shape. His ‘Flower Song’ was well formed and convincing. Its concluding B-flat was taken full voice and was pleasant to the ear.

Casting a Russian bass, Alexander Vinogradov, as a French singing matador (the term toreador was archaic even before the opera’s premiere) is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, Vinogradov has a lovely voice and fit into a traje de luces without too many bulges. What he lacked was a bit of latin pizazz that the part needs for full realization.

The most impressive singing came from Aleksandra Kurzak (Mrs Alagna). The Polish soprano has a rich voice which sailed without a ripple through Micaela’s duets and third act aria. Her sound has not a rough edge to it. She seems to have everything needed to master the French and Italian, lirico-spinto repertoire. She said during her intermission interview that she soon will add Madama Butterfly to her roles. I suspect she’ll do very will with Puccini’s Nippon doll with a voice of fire.

The rest of the cast were all first rate. Alexey Lavrov even managed to make something out of Morales, a part that typically passes unnoticed. Sydney Mancasola and Samantha Hankey (Frasquita and Mercédès, respectively) displayed voices that suggested leading roles were in their futures.

Louis Langrée conducted. I’m sure he’s a good conductor, but you could have put the Statue  of Liberty in front of the Met’s band and they still would have played like Orpheus.

 

Metropolitan Opera House
February 2, 2019

CARMEN
Georges Bizet-Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halévy/Prosper Mérimée

Carmen………………….Clémentine Margaine
Don José………………..Roberto Alagna
Micaela…………………Aleksandra Kurzak
Escamillo……………….Alexander Vinogradov
Frasquita……………….Sydney Mancasola
Mercédès………………..Samantha Hankey
Remendado……………….Scott Scully
Dancaïre………………..Javier Arrey
Zuniga………………….Richard Bernstein
Moralès…………………Alexey Lavrov
Dancer………………….Maria Kowroski
Dancer………………….Martin Harvey

Conductor……………….Louis Langrée

Production………………Richard Eyre
Designer………………..Rob Howell
Lighting designer………..Peter Mumford
Choreographer……………Christopher Wheeldon
Stage Director…………..Paula Williams
Video Director…………. Gary Halvorson