New Year’s Eve in New York City may be know for Times Square silliness, but I was lucky enough to partake in a culture-lover’s dream come true: a night at the Metropolitan Opera! And not just any night, but the premiere of a new staging of Bizet’s “Carmen.”
The breathtaking new production, directed by Richard Eyre, had a decidedly naturalistic feel, set in the 1930’s during the second Spanish Civil War. Rob Howell’s sets and costumes broke away from the flamboyant Spanish stereotypes that characterize so many “Carmen”s – instead, the drama played against a backdrop of earthy seriousness that spoke to the class issues and oppression inherent to the era (and to Carmen herself).
The production was headlined by the radiant Latvian mezzo soprano Elina Garanča, whose intense and expressive voice brought genuine sensuality and sexiness to the title role. As it happens, she wasn’t the Met’s first choice for “Carmen”: Garanča stepped in after Angela Gheorghiu canceled six of her performances — opera bloggers were quick to point out that those performances coincided with the six she was set to perform opposite her husband Roberto Alagna, in the role of Carmen’s obsessed lover Don José. Drama onstage and off? No matter. Garanča and Alagna are vivid and passionate in their renderings of the ill-fated lovers.
While this is Garanča’s first “Carmen” at the Met, she is no stranger to the role. Watch her here at her 2008 New Years Eve performance at Baden-Baden.
Don’t have tickets? No worries: “The Met: Live in HD” series, where you can watch Eyre’s “Carmen” and other great opera performances.
– Susie Karlowski