Tech issues apart, Met’s “Carmen” finds its footing with Alagna

Thu Jan 10, 2019 at 12:28 pm
Roberto Alagna as Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard

Roberto Alagna as Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo: Ken Howard

Not all was right with the Met’s Carmen on Wednesday night. Just before the curtain came up on the second cast this season, a stage manager stepped out to announce “technical difficulties”: the Act I turntable was out, and the staging had been altered to accommodate the problem. As a result, the first act of the Richard Eyre production lacked its usual clockwork precision and, more comically, actors were forced to vanish into the wings in the middle of their scenes in search of props that would usually have been pre-set. This comes just two nights after a creaky tech fail to end the Sonja Frisell Aida.

That aside, Wednesday’s performance was a marked improvement over this season’s earlier showing thanks to a game, talented cast. In the title role, Clémentine Margaine was much more herself this time around, showing more of the full, smoky sound and magnetic allure that had made her debut in the role last season so memorable. A sultry, irresistible Séguedille showed Margaine at her best, twisting her way beautifully through the winding vocal line. The arc of her character was equally impressive, from the sensual confidence of the early acts to the deep dread of the tarot scene, where her chest voice smoldered.

Roberto Alagna, Wednesday’s Don José, sounded more secure than in many his recent Met appearances. There were a few traces of the familiar strain up top but for the most part, he was able to command the rich, burnished tone that made him famous in his prime. José is a role Alagna knows intimately by now, and his portrayal is bracing: a passionate soldier who becomes an unhinged wreck, his fascination with Carmen turning into a violent obsession.

The pitiable third wheel, Micaëla, can often walk away with the show. Wednesday’s leads were too strong for that, but Aleksandra Kurzak—Mrs. Alagna offstage—gave an endearing performance as José’s forsaken fiancée. Her timbre is a little heavy for the role, so she wasn’t quite able to soar in the high-lying prayer, “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante,” but her account of the aria was richly crafted nonetheless, showing a timid woman finding her courage in a moment of crisis.

Alexander Vinogradov was an unusually stoic Escamillo, sporting a rich, crackling bass and a heavy Russian accent. His “Toréador” song, rather than using flash and swagger, relied on a quiet confidence to achieve its alluring effect.

Alexey Lavrov brought his viscous, colorful baritone as the soldier Moralès. Raymond Aceto gave a brutish portrayal of the officer Zuniga, displaying a rich bass. Sydney Mancasola charmed as Frasquita with her bright, flexible soprano and Samantha Hankey showed a dark, firm mezzo-soprano as Mercédès.

This was an odd performance from Louis Langrée in the pit. His breakneck tempi often threatened to become unmanageable—particularly in Act I, where the technical issues of the staging no doubt contributed to a general unsteadiness. Much of the score was thrilling at this pace, but Langrée lost too much detail, failing to take advantage of the Met orchestra’s capacity to execute imaginative choices that require exceptional dynamic precision.

Carmen runs through February 8 at the Metropolitan Opera. In the January 17 performance, Susanna Phillips appears as Micaëla, with Michael Todd Simpson as Escamillo.

One Response to “Tech issues apart, Met’s “Carmen” finds its footing with Alagna”

  1. Posted Feb 07, 2019 at 11:04 am by Mary McGagh

    I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. The chemistry between Aleksandra Kurzak”s Michaëla and Roberto Alagna’s José was palpable, but, of course, they are husband and wife.

    I felt that Clémentine Margaine’s Carmen was rich, alluring, sultry, flirtatious, sexy….except the bright red nail polish was distracting!

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