Rachvelishvili’s sultry Carmen strikes sparks at the Met
Carmen returned to the Metropolitan Opera Friday night with an energetic new conductor, Michele Mariotti at the helm. The performance crackled with a sense of barely controlled violence that suited Richard Eyre’s handsome, war-torn production. It also marked the return of Anita Rachvelishvili, who brought an earthy sensuality and a magnetic presence to the title role.
The Georgian mezzo-soprano sang the Habañera and Seguedilla with a chocolatey voice and a gleeful, hip-swinging swagger. But she and Don José (tenor Yonghoon Lee) proved to be doomed from the start, one of those couples that should just not be together. She was at her finest in the ensemble work of Act II: the audience-rousing gypsy dance followed by the pointillist Quintet, delivered with expert comic timing and a surety of placed notes.
From his entry in Act I, there was a sense of brooding and controlled rage to Lee’s performance. His voice has a dark, baritonal color rising up to a bright, fully supported tenor top sounding uncannily like the young Plácido Domingo in the Flower Song. There was a certain gusto to his portrayal of Don José’s violent, desperate nature, in his disturbing attacks on Carmen at the end of Act III and the sadistic glee with which he dispatched her outside the bullring.
It might just be the character’s repeated expression of empty braggadocio, but there was an element of warmth missing from Kyle Ketelsen’s portrait of Escamillo. However, the baritone offered a graphically narrated Toreador Song that ended with an entertaining duel of low notes with Carmen, making the attraction between the two readily apparent. He was better in Act III, throwing himself into the knife fight with Don José.
Despite a wide vibrato, Kate Royal sang a moving Micäela, finding the steel within this secondary character in her Act III aria. Baritone Keith Miller played Zuñiga with a boiling, uncontrolled lust for Carmen.
This was Michele Mariotti’s debut on the Met podium. Nerves might account for the rocket-fast Prelude, which raced through the opening phrases at a speed to exhaust any parade of bullfighters. The Italian conductor settled down in the later acts, providing sensual accompaniment to the difficult Flower Song and a sense of explosive energy to the big ensemble scenes and choruses. In choosing to present Carmen with the recitatives instead of the original spoken dialogue, Mariotti sacrificed detail for the sake of narrative drive.
Carmen continues with this cast through Oct. 18, returning Feb. 9 with Anita Rachvelishvili, Nikolai Schukoff as Don José and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Escamillo. All performances are conducted by Michelle Mariotti. Metoperafamily.org