Passion in short supply the second time around with Met’s low-voltage “Carmen”

Sat Feb 07, 2015 at 7:36 am
Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna star in Bizet's "Carmen" at the Metropolitan Opera. File Photo: Ken Howard

Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna star in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera. File photo: Ken Howard

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.

8 Responses to “Passion in short supply the second time around with Met’s low-voltage “Carmen””

  1. Posted Feb 07, 2015 at 2:58 pm by Ellen Christine

    Nuance, perfection. tonality, golden. Strained, never.
    Roberto has been doing Don Jose for as long as I”ve been in love with his voice, or vice versa, and as someone who has seen every performance he has given at The Met, I can say with flag waving pride that last night he was there. His high notes ( didn’t you hear me yell “YES” ! after Michaela/DonJose duet Parles-moi ???) floated on the smoke they use on set for ambiance. His balance, execturion and presence in the role was just divine. To see him work that role every single time with a new take, a different expression, is always envigorating. I’m Latin, as it happens, so Carmen is near and dear to my heart. And Roberto is the ONLY Don Jose. His famous phrasing is impeccable and his emotional rendering of consternation, pain, and obsession worked so well that people were sitting up in there seats all around me to watch every move. No one wants to miss a single inflection of Roberto’s voice on that glorious stage. We wish he were here more often, truly.
    P.S. I loved this Michaela. I thought she was strong where Michaela had never been strong before. She brings a different color to the role, and I found it refreshing and beautifully paired with Roberto’s voice. We take into consideration that it was her first time around, and not to gloss over, she did it proud.
    Thank you, Ms. Garanca for performing such a consuming role in spite of being sick. I didn’t notice anything in her delivery, but she might be a little less energetic because of her flu.
    Mr. Critic, you’re a brave man to take on the scores of Alagna fans out here, but hey…we might not agree with your take on last night.

  2. Posted Feb 07, 2015 at 3:51 pm by Patricia de CAMARET

    I fully disagree with such comments concerning Friday night’s Carmen performance at the Met, especially about the title-roles. Roberto Alagna and Elina Garança delivered quite a perfect combination of vocal and scenic excellence. Roberto’s voice, beyond this noticeable golden tone and exceptional phrasing that everybody knows, was as its best, either modulated, clear or intensively strong when required, and moreover with the feeling of an incredible easiness in the most difficult arias. The way he is playing this role is no more no less the most sincere and true I’ve ever seen. Roberto doesn’t play Don Jose, he is Don Jose. As Elina is Carmen. The electrical connection between them – as so beautifully written above, is still there. The relationship is still fusional, intensive, powerful, quite incredible. They have been playing together this opera so many times, that probably one could think “are they really playing or are they simply themselves on the stage and probably backstage? ” Since 5 years, of course, both have become a little bit older, and consequently, the way to play is surely now more mature, but not less passionate and strong. I attended so many Carmen’s performances on so many theaters in the world with so many different singers that I can say without being mistaken, that the one I saw yesterday was one of the best ones I’ve ever attended specially because of this so particular and explosive relationship between Don Jose/Roberto and Carmen/Elina. The public yesterday night was also not mistaken, giving to Roberto and Elina a standing ovation really deserved.

  3. Posted Feb 07, 2015 at 4:57 pm by Dede Bacro

    I do have to say that I was not at this performance, but it seems every time I hear Roberto Alagna in NYC and think he sounds fresh and lyrical and just gorgeous, there is a review about his voice being “leathery”, “strained”, etc. I feel as if we are hearing different artists… and I know opera and I studied voice, so I am not completely crazy…

  4. Posted Feb 08, 2015 at 2:41 am by Deborah Jokinen

    My husband and I attended this performance so I was very interested to see what was written here about it. Of course, people can perceive things quite differently, but I was surprised to find a description that bore little resemblance to what I recalled experiencing at the Met during the February 6th performance of Carmen.

    Elina Garanca not only sang her role beautifully and looked the part, but in her acting also embodied all the requisite seductiveness and passion needed for credibility in the role. I felt that she was invested in the role and that we were observing an unusual level of intimacy between two performers who had the benefit of having performed these roles together before. And my husband remarked that he could well imagine a man being led to throw everything away for THIS Carmen….

    I was truly shocked to read your description of Roberto Alagna’s singing as “stressed”. Nothing could be further from the truth! He sang with power, and when appropriate, with tenderness. In fact, he sounded comfortable and in control of the sound and the effects he produced throughout the performance. This was the case whether Don Jose was singing to Micaëla of his mother with fondness, asserting his love for Carmen as he ascended to the top notes in the flower song, or descending to the depths of jealous passion and despair in the closing scenes of the opera. His conviction in this role was unusual and his characterization was moving. (We did not hear the “snickers” referred to in the review.)

    As for Ailyn Pérez, she was a fine Micaëla. She sang in an attractive voice and radiated a confidence that did not betray any “first time at the Met jitters”. Her performance indicated that she was more “arrived” than “promising”.

    Altogether, a very satisfying “Carmen” and not as described in the review. I would encourage other readers to go see for themselves.

  5. Posted Feb 08, 2015 at 11:24 am by A. Farrell

    I was disappointed by the same performance. My wife and I became great fans of Ms Garanca afterr watching the HD version. But I was greatly relieved to learn she was recovering from the flu and had not permanently lost her mojo. Anyone who has been through influenza knows how sick it makes you and how long it takes to feel even slightly better. To ponder just getting up out of bed can be overwhelming, let alone having to go out on stage for 3 hours to mainline a hyped return to the Met. I envy those who will get to see Ms. Garanca back at full strength, which I hope will be soon. I thank her for being gutsy enough to go out on stage feeling unwell and giving us what she had.
    We also truly enjoyed Ms Perez’ debut: what a voice! Looking forward to watching her career.

  6. Posted Feb 12, 2015 at 10:31 am by R. Simon

    I am a new comer to Carmen having seen it twice in Santa Fe this summer and Nov 1 Live in HD. That led me to purchase the 2010 DVD and become captivated by EG and RA. I was a student in Geneva for 3 years in my youth so went to work studying the libretto and plot of Carmen including reading Merimee’s Novella. The 2010 DVD has French subtitles which was most helpful to me as was the Met book on Carmen. I live in the west and journeyed just to see this encore which I attended February 9 and I wasn’t disappointed. It is true that EG may have lost 10% of her projection with her being ill, but to me her passion was what I experienced in the 2010 DVD. I also planned to hear her at the Carnegie concert but she withdrew because of illness. Can’t imagine and appreciate the effort she must have made to keep her Carmen schedule. I also felt RA was as good as the DVD.
    While critics are entitled to their opinion, I wonder if creating some turmoil isn’t advantageous to them rather than the people they’re supposed to serve. I think this review does disservice to one of the greatest Carmen productions with the best Carmen and Don Jose.
    I wonder if Mr. Simpson shouldn’t return to another performance later this month as Ms. G continues to recover to repair the damage he’s done.
    I do concur Mr. Bernstein’s Zuniga was the best I’ve heard with crisp clear enunciation as was Ms. Perez.
    As an aside it would be helpful if the Met offered original language Met Titles for all operas. I see they are doing it for Italian ones and they’ve told me others are coming. It’s of note that The Merry Widow Live in HD and sung in English had English subtitles which were most helpful.

  7. Posted Mar 19, 2015 at 11:30 pm by Tom Lee

    Every critic is entitled to his/her opinion even if it shows lack of evident lack of musical, aural or critical judgement.

  8. Posted May 31, 2015 at 12:27 pm by Frank Sutak

    Referring to the cruel “critics” I can’t believe what I am reading about Carmen’s performance. Elina had a very good reason for
    not being 110%. Give me break she is a perfectionist in every sense of the word the MET must be careful not to narrow view what he sees, or hears. Lincoln center has some amount of acoustical problems that may defuse the intent of the singer. Leave that beautiful artist alone way before you start to be a know it all
    Critic she earns mine and millions respect to be the best performer you can lay your eyes or ears to hear.

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