Magazine article The Spectator

Alluring and Sexy

Magazine article The Spectator

Alluring and Sexy

Article excerpt


Alluring and sexy



Carmen ranks very high on the fairly short list of operas that I can't imagine myself ever getting tired of listening to or seeing. That's partly because, having no meaning in itself, it is indefinitely both responsive and resistant to interpretation. Each time one sees a production, so long as it stays within the limits of sanity, new lines of thought about it and about what it deals with - love, liberty, fate - are suggested. In the first revival of his 2002 production, David McVicar has adapted himself quite extensively to his new Carmen and Don José - at least, I'm fairly certain that the rethink is extensive, though my memory for the minutiae of production is not strong.

The new Carmen is the Israeli mezzo Rinat Shaham. She is sexy, alluring and intense. Teasing and banter aren't her thing, so she is weakest in the Habanera, and at her most convincing in the last two acts. Von Otter, who sang the role two years ago, was found by many to be both over-energetic and cold. I didn't agree, but no one is going to say that about Shaham. She and José rapidly throw themselves into an intense relationship, despite the fact that it's perfectly obvious that he is psychotic - at any rate it is in Paul Charles Clarke's passionate reading of the role.

It's difficult to decide with Bizet whether he is more concerned merely to give his performers great tunes, even great arias to sing, or whether he is intent on creating characters of a certain kind, ones that are scarcely coherent and in that way much more lifelike than we usually care to admit, and unlike the carefully constructed characters of other great operatic composers. For José, one of the major wimps of opera, is a man with a violent past and, when we first meet him, with a desperate and violent future; but he is also prepared to return to barracks as soon as he hears the bugle, shocking us almost as much as he does Carmen. Is this the behaviour of a man helplessly in love? Of a man who will soon be killing out of jealousy? Or is it just that Merimée's story was confusedly adapted by the librettists and Bizet didn't mind too much? Whichever, it's an extraordinarily difficult role to make convincing, and Clarke does a good job. Whether it's also a good idea to import a fair amount of listless dialogue to flesh out these mainly thin characters is another matter. …

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