New cast, conductor put focus on the music in Met’s cowboy “Carmen”

Fri Apr 26, 2024 at 3:10 pm
Clémentine Margaine and Michael Fabiano in Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Nina Wurtzel / Met Opera

Carrie Cracknell’s gritty Carmen returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday evening with a powerhouse cast. The English director may have stripped away all period Spanish charm and atmosphere from Bizet’s tragedy, but the singing of this new cast eclipsed any of its shortcomings.

The update to present-day rodeo country is not jarring and does no disservice to the plot. Cracknell’s chief faults are the static placement of the chorus and the flashing lights, which are even more annoying the second time around. 

Aigul Akhmetshina brought a beguiling youth and lyricism to the title role when the production opened last New Year’s Eve. Clémentine Margaine, who has been singing Carmen for over a decade, came equipped with experience, authority, and equal allure. 

An announcement was made beforehand that Margaine was suffering from allergies, but that hardly seemed necessary given the suppleness of her singing. She expressed Carmen’s quixotic in sounds which ranged from earthy, guttural growlings to soft, sensual vocal caresses.

Margaine aroused passion with her taunting and tantalizing “Habanera.” She voiced doom in the Card Scene in hollow utterances which presaged the abandon and cruelty which she would taunt Don José and tempt fate. 

It was an easy leap for Margaine to embody a rebellious, brazen American factory worker. Cracknell gave Carmen a great Thelma and Louise moment in the first act as they drove off in a semi-trailer truck loaded with firearms, and Margaine made the most of it.

Michael Fabiano is a powerful Don José. The awkward shyness which the tenor brings to the role is his Don José’s default personality. When Carmen stokes the flames of Don José’s primal urges, Fabiano explodes with passion and fury. Cracknell imagined a brutal, horrifying death for Carmen, and Fabiano delivered it with spine-chilling ferocity.

Fabiano can be a forthright, assertive singer, but he expresses love and tenderness in soft, beautiful tones. He shaped long expanses of phrases that pulsed with emotion and crested on thrilling high notes, whether loud or soft. These qualities made his Flower Song one of the most beautiful and moving moments of the performance. 

As Escamillo, Ryan Speedo Green’s charismatic cowboy was a stunner in a ten-gallon hat and chaps. His arrival on stage driving a bright red convertible provided the primary visual pop of the evening, although his seductive and triumphant “Toreador Song,” even topped this entrance for glamour.

Micaëla was Ailyn Pérez’s debut role at the Met in 2015 and it remains a perfect fit for her. The middle of Pérez’s soprano is rich and molten, which colored every phrase with passion and emotion. Micaëla’s touching aria which she sings as she searches for Don José, was as plaintive as it was lovely.

Conductor Diego Matheuz is making his Met debut with this performance. A product of Venezuela’s El Sistema system, the 37-year-old conductor has held key posts at La Fenice Opera House in Venice, Orchestra Mozart Bologna, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, as well as conducting in many major European and Asian opera houses.

Matheuz crafted an integrated performance in which the singing on stage and orchestral playing in the pit was virtually seamless. Balance was of little concern due to the sizable voices with which he had to work, but he was extremely sensitive nonetheless to dynamics. 

Under Matheuz’s baton, Bizet’s brilliant orchestration and soaring melodies united to create a dramatic arc which illuminated and electrified the drama unfolding on stage.

Carmen runs through May 25.

Leave a Comment

" "


 Subscribe via RSS