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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 8, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 41
Please, not another superb Carmen!
Arts & Entertainment
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Please, not another superb Carmen!

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

This is embarrassing! I have written that Carmen is not even close to my favorite opera to see, and yet here I am writing to recommend a second DVD of that opera in less than two months.

Indeed, now you have two best-in-decades Carmen videos to chose from: Francesca Zambello's brilliant production at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with the spectacular tenor Jonas Kaufmann, and now an equally spectacular singer, Elina Granca, singing Carmen in a production at the Met almost as good as Zambello's. (This newer DVD is the same performance many of us saw in the Live in HD series at the local cinema.) What an amazing time we live in, to have such riches available for so little!

What makes this DVD a contender for your dollars is the stunning beauty, both physically and vocally, of Elina Garanca. In this, her first Carmen, she acts the part with utterly convincing realism, if somewhat less gripping than the earthy Anna Caterina Antonacci on the earlier DVD. But if you're more interested in luscious vocalism, Garanca is the clear choice, simply because nature gave her the superior instrument. They sing equally well.

Both videos are as good as it gets in sound and picture quality, although the newer Met DVD does not appear to be available in Blu-ray high definition. Both benefit from superb conducting. The boyish enthusiasm of young French-Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin enlivens every note, and the camera gives you ample opportunity to enjoy his adorable face. (His name is pronounced 'yah-NEEK neh-ZAY say-GUN.')

Roberto Alagna's Don José is certainly adequate dramatically, although his rather forced singing is often slightly above the pitch, and his acting is not so compelling as Kaufmann's. The two bullfighters are both excellent vocally and are as sexy as one could wish. The Met's Escamillo is Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Likewise, both Micaëlas are entirely sufficient, with Barbara Frittoli filling her shoes at the Met.

This Met DVD also boasts some fine extras in the form of backstage interviews by Renée Fleming with three of the singers, the conductor, and the choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon. His contribution is another plus, for the orchestral interludes seduce us with a very sexy pas de deux in which the muscular male dancer is topless and breathtaking! The Zambello disc from Covent Garden gives us no extras whatsoever but is available in Blu-ray.

You couldn't go wrong with either of these discs. My preference is for the Covent Garden production, both because of the truly amazing Jonas Kaufmann and especially the detailed, gritty direction by Francesca Zambello. While I enjoy this Met DVD, Jonas Kaufmann made me care about Don José as I never have before. And Zambello kept my eyes on the screen every second.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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