Magazine article The Spectator

Missing in Action

Magazine article The Spectator

Missing in Action

Article excerpt

Every now and then I come across an opera lover who has no time for Carmen, something I find incomprehensible. Even if what you are looking for is depth, sometimes it is wonderful to remain on the surface, and no surface, surely, is more seductive than that which Bizet provides in his masterpiece. Could one love music and not fall for the superb melodies which Carmen notches up at a faster rate than any other opera I can think of? Even if the character of Micaela is a tiny bit boring, isn't the melody to which she tells Don Jose about his mother dreaming of him night and day the most beautiful ever written, the one which makes me inclined to believe in a platonic heaven of tunes, to which Bizet was granted access? Well no, apparently not.

Although I enjoyed a lot about the concert performance of Carmen at the Barbican last week, I could glimpse, for once, why one might remain uncaptivated. Colin Davis conducted it as a work of extremities, with a stunningly loud and fast Prelude, followed by an inert and too restrained scene between Morales and the soldiers, and a flaccid account of the scene between him and Micaela. The dynamics, together with the Barbican acoustics, suggested one was listening to a CD, while the tempi continued to sound contrived; the climax of absurdity was a Card Song taken as a dirge, nothing threatening about it because all life had already departed.

Carmen herself is a well-aired mystery, even if the solution is that there is nothing to understand. Olga Borodina inhabited a time-warp, roughly Hollywood in the Thirties; her diamante shoes, spangled black dress and curled lip only conjured up Bmovie memories of vamps. She was fairly seriously underpowered most of the time, and otherwise shouted. Her rival, Andrea Dankova's Micaela (it was a heavily Slav cast), was all smiles and confidence, tall and sexy in a current mode, so that one wondered what Jose saw in Carmen that he didn't find in her. She sang ardently, sweetly, and her Act III aria for once had some dramatic force. The only unproblematic element was Jose Cura's Jose, getting the applause that befits someone on his way from the wings to centre-stage as reigning Italian (-style) tenor. He didn't try to portray Jose as a psychopath, a notion which has to be imported into the part. Rather he remained the mother's boy with a surging libido, and insofar as there was any team to collaborate with, he was the ideal member. …

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