Foto: Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Sometimes one should remember that a successful opera representation is something like a miracle; sometimes one should tune down one’s expectations, even when one is about to see a mythical opera in a mythical venue. The new Carmen production at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Florence has managed to make the headlines all over the world, making use of the international movement about violence against women. The cloud of gunsmoke after Carmen shoots Don José hides the other aspects of the production, some nice choreographies, a few good ideas not quite thought out, and a very shaky musical side. Stage director Leo Muscato has set the action in a vague present time, where a gipsy camp has taken the place of the tobacco factory, the square that sees all the people pass by is the entrance of said camp, and modern soldiers in black jumpsuits, armed with truncheons and fire arms, are guarding it. It is laudable to try and underscore the situation of this ethnic minority that still suffers persecution and exclusion all over Europe; the dramatic scene during the second part of the overture, showing a violent police raid on such a camp, is quite successful in this sense. During the rest of the opera, however, one finds oneself confronted with the old old cliches of erotism and outlaws’ freedom, rightful heirlooms of the 19th century. Carmen is the typical erotic fantasy of her time, seductive and scary - a woman who wants freely to chose her companion, ready to stand for her choices up to the end and be it death. A really free woman, that would not do at the time, and so she had to die, just like Violetta Valery, like Mimi or Manon. It is recommendable, of course, to want to go beyond this doctrine of fear and submission - but making Carmen a killer, is this really giving her her freedom? It might have been more coherent to end the love story of Carmen and Don José at the end of Act II, when they are already on the point of breaking up.In short, all this is quite confusing. Bravo, Alessandro Verazzi, for the lights and Margherita Baldoni for the costumes, that contribute a lot to making the staging more readable. The musical aspects as well were a bit unbalanced. Conductor Ryan McAdams had a lot of drive, making the finely chiseled parts of the score to shine and giving sensuality to Carmen’s dances. His enthusiasm led him to drown out the singers sometimes, who had a somewhat hard time of it already.
Marina Comparato in the role of Carmen was sensuous of voice and of movement, and Valeria Sepe’s Micaëla, albeit somewhat brittle of voice, was an effective counterpart. Sergio Escobar as Don José was less convincing. He sang quite well, but something was lacking, energy, or charisma, or experience. As to Burak Bilgili, he would have done better to stay at home and take care of his voice instead of trying to play Escamillo, since it was obvious that he was not well. One had to wonder how he was even allowed to sing, and if it was the presence of a sick colleague that held the rest of the cast back somewhat, so that on the whole the performance seemed to advance with set handbrakes. A mixed bag of goodies, this evening, leaving us to wonder and ponder, and to contemplate the absence of miracles.