Carmen (Semenchuk)

Bizet Carmen opera to libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Directed 2014 by Franco Zeffirelli at the Arena di Verona. Stars Ekaterina Semenchuk (Carmen), Carlo Ventre (Don José), Irina Lungu (Micaëla), Carlos Álvarez (Escamillo), Francesca Micarelli (Frasquita), Cristina Melis (Mercédès), Federico Longhi (Le Dancaïre), Paolo Antognetti (Le Remendado), Seung Pil Choi (Zuniga) and Francesco Verna (Moralès). Henrik Nánási conducts the Arena di Verona Orchestra and Chorus. Set design by Franco Zeffirelli. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: Help!

We already have 8 HDVDs of Carmen, including an "A+" traditional version from the Royal Opera (Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann) that is head-and-shoulders better than any other and a neat, cynical update from the Liceu (Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Roberto Algana, and Marina Poplavskaya) that got good reviews everywhere and a B+ in this website. The market doesn't need another Blu-ray Carmen unless it's truly superior. And the least thing we need is a another circus-like production staged in one of those outdoor areas designed for a wine-jug-and-sparkler audience.

But now we must contend with exactly that---a Carmen filmed in 2014 in Arena de Verona. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. So I did some research; and it's true, at least in a way. Zeffirelli did a Carmen in Verona in 2003 that was published in DVD. Then I think the vast Zeffirielli set was put away in mothballs.  The set was unpacked in 2014 for a revival that could be recorded for HD TV and video. I checked and Zeffirelli is still alive (July 1, 2015). He was about 91 years old when his Carmen bit the  sand of the Verona arena in 2014. I also saw on the Internet what I think are photographs of Zeffirelli in Italy when he was, I take it, present for the Carmen rerun. It's awesome to think that he was still jet-setting around in 2014. But his pictures also give new meaning to the phrase "phantom of the opera."

I saw some clips on the Internet of the the 2014 Verona Carmen. It's blatantly extravagant. Please don't get me wrong. I applaud till my hands bleed for anyone who can get 15,000 people to turn out for an opera. But as we discussed before in a review of a Tosca at Arena de Verona, most of the things you do to appeal to 15,000 in the huge outdoors will later poison the show for those viewing an HDVD of the performance in a cozy home theater. Still, to be fair, I'll be inspired by Jean Brodie in her prime and allow that if you like videos of operas in Roman arenas, you are probably going to really do back-flips for this Carmen. (From The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: "For those that like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like!")

Mark Pullinger, writing in the October 2015 Gramophone at page 86, calls this "a picture-postcard opera for holidaymakers in Verona who might go to the opera once or twice a year. It's traditional, it's colorful, it's many people's idea of what opera is all about." He then goes on to pan all the singers except Irina Lungu as Micaëla. It appears my fears about this disc are well-founded.