I went to London with my friend Franco to hear Kaufmann in Carmen, and the scoundrel cancelled! We knew it already, but we decided to go anyway.
The production was very traditional, nothing to write home about. The peak was the dance scene in the tavern at Lilas Pastia’s, in the second act: a real tourbillon, with good dancers, and the singers who threw themselves in the dance playing the tambourine. Loads of fun.
The thing that I disliked the most about the direction were certain very vulgar gestures: Carmen, and the other female singers, often took a pose standing with legs wide apart and knees bent, picking up the skirt in between their legs with their hands. It’s ok once or twice, but if it happens every 15 minutes it’s too much.
Another thing that I got very mad about was the cut of the choral part in the last act, which opens with the parade for the entrance in the Plaza de Toros. The whole chorus A dos quartos was cut, half of the parade was cut. I was enraged, with the cost of the tickets at the Royal Opera House they can’t put together a proper parade?! Disgraceful.
The conductor Alexander Joel did a good job, in my opinion, with the orchestra of the ROH, wonderful as usual. The overture was at a crazy speed, but the result was great. The chorus got a bit lost in a few places, and he helped them with very clear gestures of his hands, forcing everybody a tempo again. The strange thing (maybe not so strange) is that the most difficult choral part, the one sung by the women telling the story of the duel with the knife (La Carmencità! La Manuelità!) came out PERFECT, even if it was extremely fast. Moreover, in the libretto the duel happens outside of the stage, while in this case they showed it while the chorus tells the story. The effect was very exciting.
Carmen was Anita Rachvelishvili, a Georgian woman probably a bit too curvy for the femme fatale role, but she clearly feels very comfortable in her own body, she is has lots of self-esteem and great chutzpah, so in the end she was very believable. I liked her voice! Powerful and confident in the lower register, she has a perfect passaggio, and great high notes. Gigantic breath, which she used with great mastery in the Habanera, giving an extremely good impression of uniformity. I want to hear her in Amneris, in my opinion she will cast an anathema that will take down the theatre.
The replacement for Kaufmann was Andrea Carè, a bit of a routine singer, but very enjoyable. In his high notes very often he “jumps”, i.e. he takes them from below, but not because he’s flat or out of tune, rather he kind of bounces on a lower note (a third, or a fourth lower, depending on the harmony). Here you can find a digression about this. It is a trick that helps singers to arrive on the high note with greater confidence, it’s not the end of the world, but it gives the impression of a rather old-school technique. He doesn’t do that all the time (for example, he gave a perfect high note on Dragon d’Alcalà). Also the high note of the flower aria came out wonderful, very intense and with good acting: he didn’t plant himself in the middle of the stage to shoot his B flat like an idiot. In the end I liked him a lot, his voice is good, powerful and confident. In my opinion he might want to improve his projection: sometimes I had the feeling that his voice remains stuck inside his head. But you know, I always choose projection over size.
Micaela, the young innocent girl in love with Don Jose, was sung by Sonya Yoncheva. She really has a beautiful voice, sweet, with great legato and confident high notes. She doesn’t project a big personality, even if, to be honest, the character doesn’t help. The duet with the tenor in the first act was very tender, and in her big aria she gave everything, with good results, and a wonderful high B at full force.
The young Hungarian bass Gábor Bretz gave good results, he has a big voice with good low notes (and you need them, focchrissake, sick and tired of those baritones who sing Escamillo and can’t properly reach the low note on “…les soldats”. Including Hvorostovsky, who I otherwise adore). Bretz is really tall, which helps him dominate the scene as he should, and he even entered on a horse. Good technique, even if he sounded a bit green. We’ll see.
The cast included great, really great second leads: Vlada Borovko and Rachel Kelly (Frasquita and Mercedes), Adrian Clarke and Harry Nicoll (Dancaire and Remendado) were brilliant in the second act’s quintet, which the conductor took at an absurd speed.
All in all, Kaufmann gave us a big disappointment, but I am overall happy that I have seen this Carmen.