Passion in short supply the second time around with Met’s low-voltage “Carmen”
By all accounts, Friday night’s Carmen should have been one of most exciting nights of the Metropolitan Opera’s season. But somehow the enticing combination of two superstars, a hyped debut, and one of the company’s most popular repertory productions provided less than the sum of its parts.
The greatest puzzle of all was Elina Garanča, for whom Carmen is a signature role. She has a dark, irresistible allure that captures attention from the moment she enters. She just is Carmen. Pair that with one of the operatic world’s great voices, a dusky but liquid instrument that smolders at the bottom and glimmers darkly higher up, and you’re just about guaranteed a knockout performance–right?
Apparently not. Garanča has been criticized before for having a splendid instrument but not doing much of interest with it, and that was very much the case on Friday. Her singing was neatly phrased, and without much spark. She had been battling the flu earlier in the week, but the things you would expect to be affected–her voice and her physical energy–were in working order; that she was able to sing so beautifully and have such a captivating dramatic presence without channeling one into the other is inexplicable, but evidently not impossible.
It was a rougher night for Roberto Alagna, whose singing as Don José was inconsistent. There were times when his golden tone rang true and clear, but for the most part he sounded strained. Moreover, the electric connection he shared with Garanča during this production’s inaugural run six years ago was gone–the most affection he showed to anything all night was the rapturous embrace he gave to a wooden pole in the final act, an image that elicited more than a few snickers from the audience.
Ailyn Pérez made her much anticipated debut as Micaëla, and she received a rapturous ovation. Her performance was more “promising” than “outstanding”–she seemed to be pushing, giving her tone, especially up high, a hard edge that did not flatter the role. Still, you could hear warmth in her voice, her pitch was pure, and she has a natural, effortless charisma that makes her a joy to watch. She may well improve as the run goes continues, once those “first-time-at-the-Met” jitters are out of the way.
The Met has had a difficult time in the last few Carmen runs finding an Escamillo who can really bring down the house with an electric “Toreador” song. Gábor Bretz on Friday came the closest of the recent entrants, but his voice is on the small side for the Met, dulling the effect. Otherwise, he brought tremendous swagger and oaky warmth to the role. Richard Bernstein’s fleshy bass and commanding presence made the relatively thankless role of Zuniga one of the evening’s standouts.
Louis Langrée tended to keep a lid on the orchestra, but there was enough sparkle and character in his direction to make up for any lack of volume. The Met’s choristers, young and old alike, sounded their gleaming best.
Carmen runs at the Metropolitan Opera through March 7. Jonas Kaufmann will sing the role of Don José for the last two performances, March 4 and 7. metopera.org