Carmen last production at the Paris Opera dates back to 1997 (performed until 2002), which explains the high expectations for this new production entrusted to the (mostly theater) director Yves Beaunesne.
Sold out until the end of 2012, this opera by Bizet is shown in the version with dialogues; the libretto having nevertheless been adapted by the playwright Marion Bernède.
In a unique and quite colorless set (a warehouse), Yves Beaunesne chose to set it in the second half of the XXth century in Spain, more precisely during the democratic transition at the end of the 1970s. Culturally, this period was marked by the Movida movement (Pedro Almodovar,…). In tribute to this director, Carmen is a peroxidized blonde, and the guests of Lillas Pastia (among them «drag queens») in act II are dancing on a tank, Escamillo (act III) is wearing bell-bottom pants and a «cake knife» collar. Nothing real new, not bringing much to the piece.
Although the crowd motions are well adjusted and have a nice aspect (the parade from act IV in particular, right before Escamillo’s entrance), the soloists, and especially Anna Caterina Antonacci (Carmen) and Nikolai Schukoff (Don José) are highly static and seem lost on the huge stage of the Bastille Opera. The feelings and facial expressions seem so much contained that the audience is having a hard time being actually captivated by the drama of this impossible love which is happening right in front of them. This is all the more noticeable since both singers are not in great shape. He tends to belt out, and seem much weakened at the end of the night. More bourgeoise than a gipsy, Antonacci is only a shadow of what she has been before, singing the same part (two different productions exist on DVD, one from 2006 at Covent Garden and the other from 2009 at the Opéra Comique). She performs in a kind of spoken-sung manner that isn’t very appealing, her voice being often overshadowed by the orchestra.
The very fact that this kind of piece would be performed at Bastille rather than at Garnier (this being solely on account of money-related reasons) is a partial explanation of Anna Caterina Antonacci’s sinking in the present production. However, we can grant most the singers a proper diction. We will also keep in mind the godd performance of Genia Kühmeier as Micaëla : beauty of tone, musicality, sense of projection, as well as Ludovic Tézier, a reference as Escamillo. In spite of some time gaps and a balance with the stage that could have been better, overall the orchestra gave a positive impression, saving the night, as it were.
Photo : Anna Caterina Antonacci and Nikolai Schukoff © Charles Duprat/Opéra national
English translation : Romain Paulino