The Spectator, 16 December 2006
by Michael Tanner
Bizét: Carmen, Royal Opera House, London, December 2006
Carmen Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera’s new production of Carmen — and about time, too — has as its heroine a singer we are much more used to in baroque or bel canto operas, the determined-not-to-be-pigeonholed Anna Caterina Antonacci. Vocally, she is restrained to the point of sometimes seeming underpowered, but she shows she can deliver the goods in the final scene. Her acting is traditional hip swinging, with a fair amount of audacious skirt lifting and wide-apart-legs provocation. It’s a decent performance, but not a striking or memorable one. In that it’s in the strongest contrast to the Don José of Jonas Kaufmann, which is in all respects on a level that puts the rest of the production in the shade. He is not at all a stage-hogger, it’s just that he has a magnificent tenor voice, the finest heard at Covent Garden for quite some time, and is a gifted, intuitive actor who conveys a strong sense of humanity; in that he is like his great teacher Hans Hotter. Don José is very difficult to make a plausible, coherent character of: indecisive, with a self-confessed history of violence, it’s not easy to see why someone as tough as Carmen would look at him twice. He can be interpreted as a psychotic, which is how Jon Vickers, the finest José I have seen before Kaufmann, read him, with a voice to match. Kaufmann makes him as dignified as possible, but uncomprehending of so extravagant a phenomenon as Carmen, so that he virtually achieves tragic dimensions. In the final scene he is so harrowing that even after an evening of impertinent applause, beginning halfway through the Prelude, I was still shocked at how soon the cheering began.

In the thankless role of Micaela, Norah Amsellem, on the second evening of the run, sang adequately but flapped her arms to no purpose; while Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Escamillo is so ill-mannered as to appear in Lillas Pastia’s tavern riding his horse. Though subtlety would be out of place in performing the role, D’Arcangelo is crude. The supporting cast is strong, with a specially impressive Zuniga from Matthew Rose, who makes a bigger mark with each role he sings. Antonio Pappano conducts with his usual acute ear for unusual and telling detail. The work is produced, or rather unproduced, by Francesca Zambello. Lots of people on stage, especially children, none of them doing anything; the principals left, so far as one could tell, to fend for themselves; not one enlivening touch, all told what nearly amounted to sabotage. Fortunately Carmen, unlike its heroine, is indestructible.
Photo-Credit: Johan Persson / ArenaPAL

 back top