Carmen, opera in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet on a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Premiered on March 3, 1875. The plot is based on the 1845 novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée. Bizet’s Carmen was groundbreaking in its realism and it rapidly became one of the most popular operas of all time. Performance by the Sächsische Staatsoper in the Semperoper in Dresden on 8 June 2019.
Carmen: Maria Kataeva
Micaëla: Iulia Maria Dan
Escamillo: Jochen Kupfer
Zuniga: Martin-Jan Nijhof
Frasquita: Tania Lorenzo
Mercédès: Stepanka Pucalkova
Dancairo: Tom Martinsen
Moralès: Bernhard Hansky
Remendado: Aaron Pegram
Lillas Pastia: Michael Auenmüller
OK, I did it again. After a deadly boring Magic Flute two days ago, and a terrible staging of Nabucco three days ago, I had said to myself I would not risk seeing another production at the Semperoper in Dresden. But since I was in town … and there were still some tickets available, I could not resist and decided on the very last moment, to see Carmen. And this evening made up for (some of the) disappointments I experienced in the previous performances.
Axel Köhler’s production is “semi-modern”, which is slightly irritating. The matadors look like real matadors, Carmen’s dress in her dancing scene is a real “Carmen dress”, but then you have industrial surroundings, soldiers with bulletproof vests, a jeep, people in jeans, modern suits and miniskirts in between. Why? Just why? However, the “modern” setting was not too disturbing in this case. It looked rather “timeless”, aside of the mentioned things. I have seen worse. The clever use of colours in the set – mainly red and black – helped to ignore some illogic details. And then there was Carmen! The young Russian mezzo Maria Kataeva was captivating from her first entrance on. She did not only sing Carmen, she WAS Carmen. She has an elegant, lithe, well-focussed voice with a smoky timbre.
It sounded sharp as a knife in one moment, and tender and seductive in the next – and it all came naturally, not forced at all. She commanded her instrument very secure. Beside fine singing she was acting totally convincingly. She is a slim, sexy and a beauty as well – and she knows how to move in order to seduce men (not only on stage, but also in the audience). Wildness, fury, sex-appeal – she has it all. A really great Carmen!
Her innocent counterpart Micaela was Iulia Maria Dan, a pretty young Romanian. She has a velvety timbre, a gorgeous tone, and a fine, broad voice which she handles with ease. Besides, she is a credible actress who made much more of the role than many other singers are able to. “Silver medal” for her on that evening!
Don José, Daniel Johansson, sounded a bit insecure at the beginning, but improved rather quickly. The voice is not especially elegant or outstanding, but steady. The flower aria he mastered very well, and he was very convincing in his morbid jealousy. Especially in the final scene, he managed to create a very exciting, breath-taking atmosphere.
Less exciting was Escamillo, Jochen Kupfer, who replaced an ill Alexey Markov. Escamillo should be a bass-baritone with quite a strong, proud character. On this evening, I missed all these attributes. His voice was thin, insecure, and raspy. Even though he wore the costume of a “proud toreador”, he appeared like a teenager at his first date. He was definitely the weak point of the evening.
Even the two minor characters of Frasquita (Tania Lorenzo) and Mercedes (Stepanka Pucalkova) definitely stole the show from him. They have only short entrances, but they made the most of them. Both gave a very solid, very strong performance and contributed a great part to the success of the evening, as did the singers of the other minor roles who were not exceptional, but fine, anyway.
However, as often in life, the “weaker sex” was in fact the stronger one on that evening. 1:0 for the girls!
Strong – very strong – also the chorus. Powerful like an earthquake, lusty, passionate, and very accurate – they deserve a special bravo!
I must confess, I have never heard of conductor Antonino Fogliani before – but the baton was in good hands on this evening. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden sounded excellent! They satisfied with subtly nuanced, spirited sound, full of both, temperament and tenderness.
All in all: a really nice Carmen experience.
Gabi Eder (published 9 June 2019)