Wall Street Journal
by Paul Levy
Bizét: Carmen, Royal Opera House, London, December 2006
London Opera
Director Francesca Zambello's new "Carmen" at the Royal Opera House is the sexiest production in a very long time, though its raunchiness isn't entirely orthodox. In this women-on-top version, Carmen -- sung lustily by soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, formerly a mezzo and who still has the smoky bottom notes -- and her cigarette girls and gypsies (some of the dancers very big ladies indeed, put on a display of carnality and lasciviousness for a tender, sensitive Don José and a less than stud-like Escamillo).

This is "Carmen" seen from the point of view of female, rather than male sexual desire. Jonas Kaufmann's finely detailed José is very much the failed aspirant priest, a mother's boy who goes berserk when he gets his first real whiff of female sexuality. A celebrated young Lieder singer, the darkly handsome tenor's pianissimo top note at the end of Act II evokes comparisons with Jussi Björling and Nicolai Gedda. Bass-baritone Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's toreador, Escamillo, is a little upstaged by the huge dark horse he rides.

But then Ms. Zambello breaks all the show-biz rules by working successfully also with a live chicken, a donkey and an absolutely terrific chorus of children -- her great talent is moving crowds around the stage. The principal singers change for the five performances from Jan. 22-Feb. 3, and conductor Antonio Pappano hands over the baton from Jan. 8, though Tanya McCallin's monumental Richard-Serra-sculpture-like terracotta bullring set, of course, remains unaltered.

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