The Stage, 12.12.06
By George Hall
Bizét: Carmen, Royal Opera House, London, 8 December 2006
Amazingly, it has been 12 years since Covent Garden last staged the most popular of all operas, but Francesca Zambello’s intelligent, finely crafted production, together with superbly lucid conducting from Antonio Pappano, bring Carmen back with a vengeance.

No weak links in the cast. Anna Caterina Antonacci seems equally at home here in the mezzo register as she is singing as a nominal soprano; her gypsy girl is sexy, determined and packed with personality. She is well matched by the Don Jose of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, whose voice may lack a heroic ring but who paces himself beautifully. His character study is complex and rewarding, and his Flower Song a highlight.

Italian baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo cuts a striking figure as Escamillo, his macho manner balanced by some vital charm. Norah Amsellem’s gauche Micaela offers the perfect foil to Antonacci’s raunchier femme fatale. Every one of the smaller roles is vividly presented, with Jacques Imbrailo’s Morales and Matthew Rose’s Zuniga particularly strong.

Tanya McCallin’s adaptable unit set conjures up a heat-and-light-filled Spain and its ease of movement helps ensure a pacey evening. There is plenty of activity from the chorus, the kids, and even a few animals, keeping the eye busy throughout, but Zambello never goes over the top, focusing brilliantly on essentials where needed. The result, executed with panache by the entire company, is a nigh-on perfect realisation of Bizet’s masterpiece that should stand the Royal Opera in good stead for many years.
Photo Credit: BARDA Clive/ArenaPAL

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