Carmen-Royal Opera House-Roberto Alagna-Elina Garanca-Ildebrando D'Arcangelo-Bertrand De Billy-03.10.2009

Ladies and gentleman, here's "Carmen",
the 520th performance at the Royal Opera House

Carmen - Elina Garanca
Don José - Roberto Alagna
Escamillo - Ildebrando D'Arcangelo
Micaëla - Liping Zhang
Moralès - Changhan Lim
Zuniga - Henry Waddington
Frasquita - Eri Nakamura
Conductor - Bertrand De Billy
......It was the premiere of the revival of this opera at Royal Opera House. The previous one starred Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Caterina Antonacci. This time it is Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca trying to portray the in love and jealous soldier Don Jose and the good looking but always-in-search-of-something-new Carmen. This first night (Paul Hamlyn First Night) was offered by The Sun to its readers. The idea was that people that can’t afford to pay for a ticket or never came to the opera to be able to attend a performance paying a small amount of money. The prices of the tickets ranged from 7 to 30 pounds. I could choose where I wanted to seat so I bought a ticket in the left circle stalls, seat A16. It’s very close to the stage (too close but I’ll explain later) and also gave me the possibility to see what the conductor is doing.
......Before the beginning of the opera a nice lady came on stage and thanked Lady Hamlyn who was in the hall and The Sun for making this possible. Then she invited the audience to turn off the cell phones and to enjoy a 3 hour performance of “Carmen”. It was a good idea to present "Carmen" as many people heard a least once the famous Habanera or the overture. The music is beautiful, there’s love, passion, jealousy, and fight for a woman, indifference and even murder. It’s the perfect recipe for a great evening.
......The audience was different. Not that I go there every day, but I could sense it. No black ties, almost no beautiful dresses, there was too much noise, a lot of children, candy bags, cameras everywhere (with the flash on), amazed looks towards the stage/ceiling/subtitling system. But it was silence during the performance. I could see on people’s faces that they enjoyed it a lot.
......It’s the second time I see Carmen on stage. The previous time it was in Bucharest and Jose Cura was Don Jose. He was the first famous opera singer I saw live on stage, back in 2007. I listened to Carmen more than I saw it. So I know most of the music and arias. As I said many times before, it’s very important to have an idea of what you’ll see. This means reading the synopsis, the libretto, listening to the music and maybe reading some professional reviews. It helps a lot.
......So having everything in mind, the opera started. The set is not very complicated but suggestive. The gate of the factory on the left, a wall on the right, a tree in the middle and access zone between the tree and the wall. There’s also a donkey, hens and a lot of people. The set remains almost the same throughout the performance. During the second act the wall on the right is brought in the middle of the stage suggesting the inn and the tree in the third act is replaced by a tent (it was strange that they chose to push the orange tree away. This movement didn't look too good). I liked the costumes. This time I didn’t have the feeling that they brought their pants from home as it happened in Bucharest. And they managed to capture something of the Spanish style. For a better understanding, you can see the production from 2006 on DVD.
......The first one to come on stage is Roberto Alagna. The good looking soldier tries to mind his own business only that Carmen sees him, decides he has to be hers and the plot starts. After that Elina Garanca came on stage. The beautiful gypsy girl that has the men at her feet. She’s very beautiful and I’m glad they chose to use a brown hair wig instead of a black hair wig as I saw in some videos from other performances. That color suited her perfectly. What can I say, her green eyes, his blue eyes… from time to time is nice to be close to the stage. The sound might not be that good (this time I had the double basses below. But there were times when there was the percussion, which is worse), but you can enjoy all sorts of details not visible from the Amphitheatre.
......I see the story as something that happens step by step. At first he does not consider her a potential lover and this indifference should have been better stressed tonight. The moment he saw her he was happy. Well, not so fast. There’s plenty of time for that. And because everything started immediately, the moment of passion was… too long and lacked a culmination point. It was like.. enough kissing and hugging. Move forward. We got the idea. As far as I heard, the orchestra didn’t provide full support. The brass (but not only) was too flat, didn’t stress on the important moments during the first two acts. I don’t know who’s to blame for this. The score is the same for everybody. It’s the conductor that gets the best of the orchestra. And the best of the singers as well. He has to allow them to build something there supporting them with the music. No rushing, no delays. The singer has to be followed, especially during the arias. At some points during the first part the conductor almost lost track of the chorus being a little bit behind them. It was even more difficult with the children. I could see the conductor singing with them and even suggesting the movements.
.....Very good interventions of the chorus. Always paying attention to the orchestra and the soloists. And very good pronunciation. I like to understand what they are saying when singing. It’s not possible every time. So good for them. It was a pleasure listening to Roberto singing in French. Elina’s French is not that understandable for me, but she still has time to practice. She has Met and then Vienna runs of Carmen. During the first part the voices of the two protagonists are not as powerful and suggestive as I have expected. There was something missing there. Not that there was something wrong. Most of the times it wasn’t but I couldn’t help hearing…some unusual approachs, let’s say so. I’ll concentrate more on Tuesday and see if I can figure it out.
......I liked the dancing parts during the first two acts. Elina is involved in the dance as well and she does is soooo good. Dancing on tables at the inn scene and then the dance for Don Jose are amazing. And she keeps on singing. Those were among the best moments of the performance. And seen from close the dance is even more impressing as I could see their faces.
......The second part was a totally different thing. The music changed. They managed to send the emotion I was waiting for. And the final arias were very well supported. But again, Don Jose’s passion turns into fury in a particular moment that was not very obvious. In the end he begged, screamed, cried, she was indifferent so she had to die. As simple as that. The violence was well controlled even though Elina’s fall on the stage must have hurt a lot, not to mention that he pulled the veil off her hair… with some hair remaining in his hand. That last part was real. It should have started from here. It had everything. They both reached a boiling point and hope to keep it like this and start on Tuesday where they left it on Saturday.
......Ildebrando D’Arcangelo can do better than that for sure. I expected more. A bigger voice. At first he was stressed because of the horse he was riding. Then the orchestra almost covered his voice when he was not looking towards the audience. The fighting scene with Don Jose was fine, but remembering what I’ve seen on DVD, there was something missing. It was longer on DVD and shorter on stage. What happened? And who decides what should be cut off? Was it because it was too difficult to sing and fight (aka, running on the stage) at the same time? I think a good solution is a better communication with the other characters.
......When buying the tickets for an opera you have to take a difficult decision. Wether you stay closer to the stage (such as left and right circle stalls) but the acoustics is not that good the advantage being that you can see the faces of the artists or you buy a ticket in the amphitheatre where the acoustics is perfect. But you’re too far away to see the faces without binoculars. Difficult, isn’t it? It depends on what the priority is. It’s better if you can see two performances, one closer to the stage and the other one up there. So you have both the image and the sound. This is not always possible but I thought I should put it down. This is available for most of the opera houses. “Carmen” involves a lot of movement and staying too close gives one the impression that the artists are invading the hall. Not to mention that the orchestra is sometimes too loud. Up in the amphitheatre the sound is more uniform.
......For the moment, just this. Now I know what I have to pay more attention at and I’ll do that.
The first page of the score
Waiting for Mr De Billy
Act 1

Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo
Act 2

This is the first page of the thrid act. You can see there are not so many notes on it. Remember this one when I'll show you one of the pages of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde".
The conductor's score

This is one of the monitors in the hall. There are 4. They show the conductor all the time. It's meant for the artists on stage who sometimes don't face the conductor but still need to see him.

Here you can see both monitor from the back of the hall. The other two are placed above the first seats at circle stalls left and right.

Act 3

Act 4

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo

Roberto Alagna, Elina Garanca and Bertrand de Billy

Free Blog Counter
Poker Blog


  1. Ce ne-am face noi fara tine?
    Tare frumoase poze, acum nu mai sunt asa trista ca n-am fost si eu.

  2. Hi Irina,
    I love how you keep this blog constantly updated and let your readers get just a bit of a taste of what you've been to see! I have also (partly inspired by your blog, partly because I just want to write it down so that I can remember everything when I'm old and forgetful ;)) started to write some things about operas I'm seeing these days (you can probably get to it by clicking my name here).

    Anyway, you're very right when you said in this report that the audience needs to be prepared by reading a synopsis, the libretto, and listening to recordings. It enhances the experience of an opera so much!

    I would've liked to see this performance, but alas, no Covent Garden for me until the July Traviata/Simon Boccanegra/Manon performances :) - I'll try to get tickets for the Traviata opening night, and really hope I can finally see and hear Angela for the first time!

    How did Alagna sing, by the way? I heard somewhere that his voice is rapidly declining.

  3. @G - cumva ai fost cu mine. Multumesc.

  4. @ Laura - so I'll see you in London next year. It's a long shot and it's awfully risky, but I'll be there for the first night.

    Don't trust what "people" say about Roberto. Maybe he has good nights and bad nights. Go see him. And judge for yourself.

  5. so we have this thing in common, irina: the first opera-star I ever heard live was Jose Cura (Tosca). Back then he had a bad, or let´s say lazy day, the performance was not so impressive, but a year later I gave him another try, and his Andrea Chenier was then outstanding.

    I think we have to accept that the singers we admire so much are only human beings with artistic talent. They get older, have health difficulties, personal problems, good days and bad days. And when we have the opportunity to see a performance with the singers (or even one of them)in top form and top voice, that´s good luck. I´ve made the experience, I´m sure you made it, too, and more often than I did, because you travel much more to see the great productions. I would have loved to see this Carmen, as I think that Alagna is a great Don Jose. Let´s wait for the Met HD transmission (sigh).

    Thanks for your review, let´s hope the performance on october 6. made you completely happy, and you will write about that too.

    Ah, just now I´ve noticed your picture with Cecilia Bartoli, I like her new CD, hope to see her in november for the first time (well, hope the very,very expensive tickets will be sold out so I can get a standing-room ticket)

  6. Hi Edda, welcome here!
    I'll post the review for Oct 6th soon.
    And I'll be in London for Bartoli's concert. I bought the ticket many months ago.

  7. In termeni universitari, un 10 cu Distinctie pentru comentarii si fotografii. Multumim, avem o mare sansa sa aflam de la o persoana pasionata si competenta ce se petrece pe marile scene ale lumii.
    Sunt adeptul aceleasi abordari documentate a unui spectacol de opera. Cand este posibil, apelez si la sursele literare - in cazul lui Carmen, nuvela lui Prosper Merimee. Am si eu un reper memorabil de la ONB: Elena Cernei in rolul titular. Desigur, este minunat ca puteti sa-i vedeti pe cei mai buni cantareti ai momentului "around the world". O singura observatie: blondele sunt nevoite sa-si schimbe "look"-ul cand trebuie sa interpreteze roluri de gitana (Elina Garanca in Carmen) sau cand mentiunile din libret o impun (Karita Mattila in Tosca). Am in vedere desigur vorbele lui Mario: "E bruna Floria, l'ardente amante mia".

    Cat mai multe spectacole frumoase in cat mai frumoase locuri !

    P.S. I got some strange warnings trying to post my comment. I try again.

  8. Hi, Irina, thanks for the warm welcome.
    I was talking about the Bartoli-Concert here in Germany in November, it´s not sold out yet.

  9. just found this one

  10. @Margarit - multumesc pentru aprecieri. raman la partea cu pasiunea. competenta este inca in formare.
    Desigur ca era necesara peruca. Fara discutie. Spuneam doar ca am vazut o varianta cu o peruca neagra. si nu venea tocmai bine. cea bruneta vine de minune.

  11. @Edda - so buy a ticket. It will be a great show!
    Thanks for the link. This time most of the critics said the same things.