Okay, here's the scoop on the Met's HD Carmen, as seen at the Palookaville multiplex yesterday: it was a room largely populated by 50- to 80-year-old women, decently dressed and presentable, all kicking themselves sideways for having listened to the nuns in middle school.
Think of it: with just a little bit of enterprise, they could have been the brooding, butt-smoking beauty who gets to run off with Mr. Studola. Instead they wound up as Micaela, loyal, self-sacrificing and long-suffering whose greatest thrill comes when she is nearly gang-raped by a barracks full of horny soldiers.
Okay, so Micaela goes on to a comfortable maturity, with a 401k and tickets to the opera on Saturday afternoon, while Carmen lies dead in the rubble at the end of the third act. Forget that. A short life but a happy, not so?
It was that kind of Carmen--energetic to the point of urgency, and dripping with lust. Not least, it made its good-girl point by showcasing far and away the best good-girl Micaela that I've ever seen --the Italian soprano Barbara Fritolli, hiherto unknown to me, who inhabited the role with a density and conviction that added heft to the drama as a whole. From her half-time interview, I gather that she meant it this way: she appears to think that Micaela is an underappreciated and often underplayed role, and she certainly made her point.
Of course it's still a secondary role, and if you remember much about the show, it's going to be more of Carmen (Elina Garanca) and Don Jose (Robert Alagna). Their chemistry was superb (it needs to be: I remember a Carmen a few years back at the New York City Opera where Carmen and Don Jose just didn't seem all that interested in each other). But I'd have to say it is Alagna who is the more at home in his role. No longer lost as the Other Guy in the team of Angela Gheorghiu and the Other Guy, Alagna is a talented and polished singer with just the right touch of loser about him to make his Jose plausible.
Garanca for her part has a lovely voice and a world of technique, but sadly, there is nothing of the loser about her: no fatalism, no superstition, no incapacity to frame the future, no aura of doom. Impresive a she is as a singer, you can never quite forget that underneath the Cher wig there's a strapping Balt whose shots are up to date and who spend an hour this morning on an elliptical trainer (a NordicTrac?).
Teddy Tahu Rhodes who played the role with four hours' advance notice, turned in a perfectly creditable Escamillo; the trouble is that part of the point of Escamillo is that he's really nobody--just a reflection of the adulation of others. So if he comes in and just belts a few, why then he is just doing his job.
The production by Richard Eyre is getting a lot of favorable but invidious comparisons with the Tosca that opened the Met's season last fall. I didn't mind the Tosca that much, but I must say that Eyre, together with Choreographer Christopher Wheedon, put together a production with a lot of originality while continuing to carry conviction. The dancing works; it's integrate with and develops the story. And as I guess I said, it's a production that does not stint the sex. I can't remember when I have seen quite so much langourous stroking of the female fanny. A bit too much, actually, I think, for the two ladies next to us. But we were in the third row (the theatre was crowded and we came late). And anyone you look at it, there was no way of missing the point that as between Micaela and Carmen, it is Carmen who has more fun.