Also available on Blu-ray
British director Richard Eyre's Carmen was recorded on January 16, 2010 at the Met, just weeks after its premiere. He has updated the opera from the 1830s to the 1930s, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, an era of cruelty and oppression in keeping with the opera's criminality and violence. He focuses on the characters' stubborn refusal to submit, and gives us strong-willed, tough people to deal with. The locals resent the soldiers; the cigarette girls are poor workers in their unappealing outfits, emerging from a basement workplace--a veritable hole-in-the-ground--into what seems like almost toxic heat and humidity.
In the first act Rob Howell, the set and costume designer, has placed a fence around what appears to be a ruined bullring; the children look like caged animals when they first appear. The set itself is a huge drum-like structure that revolves to change the scenes; it is made of broken walls evoking a city (or world) in disrepair and decay. It casts the right spell.
The new Carmen, Elina Garanca, is finely drawn. During the Habanera, rather than dance she takes the time to wash her legs with water from a bucket. It's as sexy as it is natural. She's quick to anger--she kicks and spits--but her general indifference is as alluring as it is frightening. Garanca's voice is beautiful from top to bottom and she never pushes it. Set in this production, with a remarkably sympathetic conductor, her Carmen is a sensation. The fact that she's beautiful certainly helps, and the camera loves her.
Roberto Alagna's Don José begins as just another anonymous soldier in Franco's Guardia Civil; he is easily smitten by Carmen and keeps trying to escape from her, but he can't find the moral courage and he hates himself as a result. His final scene is a study in lunacy. Vocally, he is in fine shape, and if there is the occasional strain on loud, high notes, he makes up for this with intelligent, nuanced phrasing (the B-flat at the close of the Flower Song is approached and hit at a whisper) and, of course, exquisite French enunciation.
Baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes makes a handsome, full-of-himself Escamillo, and he deals with the wide tessitura of his song with ease and acts convincingly. He's fierce in the third act when he challenges José and is sensual in the last. Barbara Frittoli's Micaela is a bit mature, both vocally and physically, but she convinces anyway. Keith Miller is a terrific, dark-toned Zuniga, and the others in the cast are splendid. The children's chorus never has sounded (or acted) better.
Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin easily could be considered as the star: from a big, fast opening prelude he moves to a far more intimate, textured, indeed very French approach. There are dozens of small details to relish, and for once the last-act prelude does not sound like cats knocking over trash cans. Christopher Wheeldon's choreography includes two ravishing moments during the soft preludes to Acts 1 and 3--pas de deux brilliantly lit by Peter Mumford (the first in blood red, the second in iridescent blue) and danced by Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey.
Renée Fleming introduces the opera and interviews Alagna and Garanca after Act 2 (they're charming); DVD 2 contains three tiny interviews with the conductor, Frittoli, and Tahu Rhodes and Wheeldon. Sound and picture are all one could ask for.
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Elina Garanca (Carmen), Roberto Alagna (Don José), Trevor Scheunemann (Morales), Barbara Frittoli (Micaela), Keith Miller (Zuniga), Elizabeth Caballero (Frasquita), Sandra Piques Eddy (Mercedes), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Escamillo), Earle Patriarco (Dancaire), Keith Jameson (Remandado)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Solo Dancers: Maria Kowroski & Martin Harvey
Production: Richard Eyre
Set & Costume Designer: Rob Howell
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 16:9