Same old, same old, ho-hum. The company’s latest “Carmen” is a re-run of the 2004 first run; the temptation is to re-run our words from that occasion: no, the company still hasn’t got it right. The conductor, international gadabout Emmanuel Villaume brings a firmer, livelier hand to the musical proceedings than did Placido Domingo the last time around, but his efforts are grimly offset by the inadequacies of a prevailing second-rate cast, who seem immune to the blandishments of Bizet’s lovingly seductive score. Oh, and by the way, top ticket now is $60 higher than the 2004 figure. On Saturday’s opening night the number of empty seats in Mrs. Chandler’s Pavilion had grown astronomically by the second intermission.
Hungarian mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin is the Carmen, replaced in the last three (of ten) performances by Nancy Fabiola Herrera. Marcus Haddock, as close as there is these days to an all-purpose tenor, is the Don Jose, replaced later on by German Vilar. Raymond Aceto was the okay Escamillo, his “Toreador Song” shorn of one verse. All sang adequately, none able to dispel the “ho-hum another ‘Carmen'” sense that ruled the evening. Genia Kuhmeier’s prettily sung Micaela was a step more moving than these, perhaps, but so what? That role has to be the most superfluous character in all opera. Production, from Madrid’s Teatro Real, takes on an unplanned but unmistakable funereal aspect: a veritable catacomb for Lillas Pastia’s nightclub, potted palms around Escamillo’s bullring.
What can be done for “Carmen,” to rescue its magnificent score from the routiniers? Above all, it demands a restoration of Bizet’s original score, “a terse, fast-moving dramatization of the original sensationalist novel, with spoken dialogue between the musical numbers instead of the sung dialogue that other hands had added to the score after Bizet’s death, slowing it considerably and diluting its genius with lesser hackwork.” Words re-run from my 2004 review, are in need of restatement.