Georges Bizet Carmen opera to libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Directed 2006 by Francesca Zambello at the Royal Opera House. Stars Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen), Jonas Kaufmann (Don José), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Escamillo), Norah Amsellem (Micaëla), Elena Xanthoudakis (Frasquita), Viktoria Vizin (Mercédès), Jean-Sébastien Bou (Le Dancaïre), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Le Remendado), Matthew Rose (Zuniga), Jacques Imbrailo (Moralès), Carolina Lena Olsson (Lillas Pastia), and Anthory Debaeck (Le Guide). Antonio Pappeno conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Concert Master Peter Manning) and the Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna). Designs by Tanya McCallin; lighting by Paule Constable, choreography by Arthur Pita; fight scenes by Mike Loades; directed for TV by Jonathan Haswell. Released 2008, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+
This disc is a chain with no weak link. All 12 stars look, sing, and act right. Antonacci is convincing as a woman who is always the brightest light in the room. Kaufman is handsome and athletic enough to actually rappel on stage. The chorus gets a huge workout singing and acting as soldiers, villagers of all classes, and brigands. When you see the infectious children playing soldiers, you will want to march right out and enlist. The directing is admirable throughout and spiced with spectacular touches such as Escamillo entering on a splendid horse, the 6 chubby-cheeker dancing girls, and a magnificent parade to the bullring. It's impressive to see how one rather simple set works well as a town square with cigarette factory, a tavern patio, a mountain redoubt, and the exterior of an arena. Great costumes? Check. Warm lighting and carmine palette give glow. The orchestra plays great, and the dts-HD Master Audio recording is wonderful---even the sub-woofer gets to whack away. To top it off, Zambello gets beneath the all the glitter to the guts of this story. You see and feel how badly Don José (and Carmen) have hurt Micaëla, and we understand the price they will pay.
The video photography and editing here is masterful with a vivid and apt mix of whole-set shots and powerful close-ups. The only quibble we have with this disc is that the subdued lighting, no doubt pleasing in the theater, was too challenging at times for the high-definition cameras. The result was some haze, graininess, and occasional motion artifacts. Let's hope the next generation of 4K cameras will do a better job with the low-light scenes.
I originally gave this the grade of "A." But after the fine Met Carmen with Garanča and Alagna came out, I reviewed subject Antonacci/Kaufmann version yet again and bumped the old "A" up to "A+." Every time I see this, I like it better. I hope you enjoy the screenshots below; in the HT, the images look much better.
This production opens with a fantastic evocation of a square in Seville outside a cigarette factory. We see all kinds of strange folks, of which the street urchins are the most interesting:
Carmen is a gypsy, but she sometimes works at the cigarette factory. The men hang around to see the girls when they take a break.
But mostly they want to see Carmen (Anna Caterina Antonacci).
Carmen will cast a love spell on Don José (Jonas Kaufmann) by hitting him with a red rose.
José still thinks he loves Micaëla (Norah Amsellem), an orphan girl who lives with his mother. But even as he embraces Micaëla, the rose (in José's hand) is doing its damage:
Carmen cuts a girl, and the lieutenant will send her to jail pending trial. Carmen sets out to seduce Don José into letting her escape:
Don José lets Carmen get away, and he goes to jail instead. Carmen celebrates her latest exploit at the favorite gypsy tavern:
Out drumming up business, the bull-fighter Escamillo (Ildebrando D'Arcangelo) visits the tavern and sings his famous aria:
Don José joins the gypsies. Frasquita (Elena Xanthoudakis) and Mercédès (Viktoria Vizin), Carmen's best friends, tell their fortunes with a card game.
Micaëla enters the gypsy camp to tell Don José that his mother is dying. Don José quits the gypsy life:
Carmen falls in love with Escamillo. A bull fight is held in town preceded by a magnificent parade:
Carmen knows Don José is in the crowd watching the parade. She stays in the street to confront him. While Escamillo is killing the bull, Don José kills Carmen. The fight in the street was so realistic, spectators at the live performance feared Kaufmann and Antonacci were risking their safety.
Here's a video of the Habanera that's been viewed millions of times on YT:
Here's a clip featuring Kaufmann: