Billed as the first capture of a complete live opera performance in the stereoscopic format, “Carmen in 3D” doesn’t quite put Bizet’s bad girl in your lap, but close enough. While Julian Napier’s translation of Francesca Zambello’s 2010 Royal Opera House spectacular will no doubt be argued over by opera fanatics — some stage reviewers unfavorably compared its revival cast with the production’s premiere lineup in 2006 — this improbable-sounding meeting of two media, one high art and the other ostensibly lowbrow, proves thoroughly enjoyable. RealD is distribbing pic to some 1,500 theaters worldwide (half in the U.S.) starting March 5.
After a few backstage glimpses and an overture (performed by the Royal Opera House orchestra under Constantin Carydis’ baton), the curtain rises and we’re plunged into designer Tanya McCallin’s expressionist rendering of Seville, its abstracted building fronts and teeming populace alike all burnt orange, ocher and rusty reds.
British mezzo soprano Christine Rice plays the role of the tempestuous temptress Carmen, who beguiles stiffly righteous soldier Don Jose (Bryan Hymel) away from his steadfast home-village sweetie, Micaela (Maija Kovalevska), and sets him on the road to ruin (with time for a stopover dalliance with dashing bullfighter Escamillo, played by Aris Argiris).
Shocking in its day, Bizet’s masterwork was initially panned and denounced in early 1875, and its composer died of a heart attack at 36 before he could witness the beginning of its global success just months later. Zambello’s blocking and d.p. Sean MacLeod Phillips’ graceful pans (with occasional crane shots) keep the action in motion even during arias; with its overripe colors and emphasis on medium-long shots, “Carmen 3D” is in some ways pleasantly reminiscent of the stereoscopic format’s 1950s first wave. Still, this is less a truly cinematic experience than an assisted theatrical one. The two media mesh most flavorfully in moments of group movement, particularly at the beginning of act two when the gypsy dance “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” is followed by Escamillo strutting his toreador boasts atop an inn’s long wooden table.
Visual proximity doesn’t necessarily flatter Rice’s impersonation of the most enticing woman in Spain, but she lends the role a flintiness that’s compelling if not potently sensual. Both she and young American tenor Hymel — dramatically, not the most passionate Don Jose — rise impressively to the challenges of famous solo passages. Ditto Latvian soprano Kovalevska, who lends Micaela a more mature, non-girlish gravity than usual. Argiris is a bit wooden but sports sufficient vocal bravado.
The 3D quality is impeccable — the only viewers suffering headaches will be those who walked in with one. Perhaps more importantly, sound mix is exceptional, delivering Carydis’ sumptuous interpretation of the ravishing score with engulfing immediacy.