It happens not only with opera, also with concert music: some masterpieces are so insistently staged or played that habitués can only have one reaction: yet another! And they become easy-way-out for organisations that want to have full theatres, for unfortunately curiosity isn´t the strong point of audiences and there´s always a majority willing to seat through the umpteenth "Traviata", Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons" or Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata".
Well, of course Bizet´s "Carmen" falls into that category, and all opera concerns have presented "their" "Carmen" in the last five years now that Juventus Lyrica ended its season with it.
I won´t rehearse again my views on "Carmen", so often stated at the Herald in preceding articles. So I will go on straight to this new presentation. It´s a mother/daughter collaboration in the by now longstanding style of Juventus: Ana D´Anna and María Jaunarena know how to infuse enthusiasm and freshness in the crowd scenes and to give an adequate account of diverse psychologies.
However, there are finer points that escape them. E.g., to simply respect the libretto: a) at the very start after the prelude, the curtain rises on a group of soldiers, and what do they say? "On the square people come and go", but here that didn´t happen, making nonsense of the scene; b) In the final seconds of the opera, Don Jose says: "you can arrest me, I killed her", but there´s no one else on stage...
There´s also the complication of the unit set, the plague of current stagings: obviously it responds to economic reasons, not aesthetic, and in operas that change ambience drastically from act to act it leads to absurdities. Here a big wooden structure, rather attractive in itself (the work of mother/daughter plus Constanza Pérez Maurice) covers the whole farther side of the stage. The problem is that, according to the libretto, you need two opposing buildings, that of the cigar factory and that of the guard post. So the action becomes confusing.
The set works acceptably for the tavern of Lillas Pastia (Second Act) with some added chairs and tables. Of course it has to be dismantled for the mountain pass of the Third Act, so you see the pieces of wood in a pile at the left, but there´s little suggestion of the Sierra Nevada. And the Fourth Act is botched, for the rebuilt stucture doesn´t look at all like a bullfight ring.
Of course, "Carmen" is a big opera with an ample mixed choir plus a children´s choir plus the vocal soloists plus a whole lot of actors, and the Avenida´s stage is rather small and has almost no flies, so it´s quite a problem to accommodate all these people, especially when the choir is supposed to sing offstage. So the wooden structure has to be moved halfway upfront to be able to place the choir behind it whilst Don Jose and Carmen sing the dramatic dialogue that will lead to her death. But before that you will have all the varied parade that involves the common people, the quadrille of toreros and entourage, the mayor and so on. And so the producers have to resort to something very habitual at the Avenida: they use the corridors that lead to the restricted stage.
The producers manage to stage a very animated fight between the cigar workers for and against Carmen (First Act) and the Second Act "Dance bohème" is soberly handled by a good Flamenco dancer (Claudio Arias). But they abuse a favorite Juventus ploy: the violent throwing to the ground of men and women. The smugglers´movements in the mountains are quite contrived. And Zúñiga (the officer) is badly manhandled contrary to what the libretto says (it even looks like they killed him).
Jaunarena´s costumes were functional rather than attractive. The lighting by Gonzalo Córdova was uneven: good enough in the first two acts and the fourth but unhelpful in the Third.
One important fact before I go further: they chose the opéra-comique version: that is, a lot of spoken words between sung parts; I much prefer the adaptation for the Paris Opera with the effective recitatives by Ernest Guiraud; they complement Bizet very well, and you avoid the horrid spoken French which Argentine casts always provide.
The cast was no more tan acceptable. The best was Florencia Machado as Carmen; the voice sounds well and she sings with reasonable style; however, the dramatic communication was rather cool. Nazareth Aufe, on the other hand, has the temperament for Don Jose and negotiates acceptably the vocal hurdles, but the voice in itself lacks power and roundness. I was a bit disappointed by bass-baritone Juan Salvador Trupia y Rodríguez as Escamillo; after singing well his Toreador Song, he was much less convincing in the remaining acts. María Goso as Micaela was strained in the highs, and she doesn´t have the "physique du rôle".
Alberto Jáuregui Lorda is by now too veteran in voice and appearance for Zúñiga. Carmen´s friends were nicely done by Ana Sofía Romagnoli and Verónica Canaves. The smugglers were well taken by the seasoned Sebastián Sorarrain and the humoristic Pablo Urban. And Morales was a sprightly Mariano Gladic.
Hernán Sánchez Arteaga did a brilliant job both as conductor of a very professional orchestra and as director of the Chorus (the Children´s Chorus under Federico Neimark was charming and accurate): he has an unfailing feeling for proper speeds and phrases very musically.
For Buenos Aires Herald