Staged on Lake Constance at Bregenz in Austria, Bizet's 'Carmen' came to life as never before. Opera today needs to be extravert and innovative to attract new audiences and keep regular opera lovers.
The first festival at Bregenz was held in 1946. It was a resounding success and the crowds have grown yearly. Two barges are built on the lake, one is the stage, the second is built for the orchestra. The show goes on rain, hail or shine. In 2010, the festival had 100 performances and drew an audience of close to 200,000, mostly from European countries. Operas, plays and orchestral concerts are the usual productions.
The star of this 2017 production of Carmen is the amazing scenery. Carmen believed her fate lay in the hands of the 'cards'. About 20 cards, 30 metres high are held with 2 giant hands, on holding a smouldering cigarette. The playing cards have the illusion of spinning as they change constantly, not only on the back of the cards but they flip over showing the faces. The colours change representing the mood of the scene. The barge lowers and the stage is flooded in the second act and an unusual water ballet is a highlight of the opera.
The supporting roles and a large chorus is excellent, as are the costumes and orchestra. Carmen has many well-known arias and easy to sing tunes, the resident director was Kasper Holten and the set designer was Es Davlin, both taking risks with this production which paid off
Carmen is a worker in a cigarette factory, today it is unusual to show people smoking as it is to find a bull fighter. So the time is set about 1950. She is beautiful, sexy, passionate, thoughtless and vulgar. She spends most of her time exposing her underwear under wonderful costumes. Gaelle Argvez has a fine mezzo soprano voice, is athletic as she races around the hugh stage, but lacks passion in her voice.
Daniel Johansson, Carmen's unfortunate soldier lover, mostly looks downtrodden and lacks passion in his voice until he comes to life in his final aria. This venting of passion leads to the drowning, not knifing as usual, of Carmen.
Elena Tsallagova acts with passion and has sparkle in her beautiful soprano voice as she pleads with Don Jose [Carmen's soldier lover and her rival] to return to his mother and be by her side as she dies. Alas his obsession with Carmen, who has now moved on with her new lover, drives him on to try and regain her love.
Scott Hendricks is Carmen's bull fighting new lover, Escamillo. He has a disappointing vibrato in his rather small baritone voice, but he still takes Carmen away and breaks the heart of Don Jose.
I saw Carmen at the Avoca Theatre. This opera is part of the many interesting and unique programmes put together and shown at this theatre. Coming up is a play from the National Theatre, a new version of 'Salome' written by Yael Farber. I look forward to seeing 'Norma' from the Met. on the coming weekend. See you there.