Carmen - Marina Domashenko
Don José - Rolando Villazón
Escamillo - Alexander Vinogradov
Micaëla - Norah Amsellem
Conduction - Daniel Barenboim
Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra, Staatsopernchor
Direction - Martin Kusej
Coproduction Berlin Staatsoper / Théâtre du Chatelet
Berlin Staatsoper Under den Linden
July 1st 2006
An all-dark and heavy atmosphere for this production of Carmen.
Lust and violence are the two axis Kusej chose to emphasize - and he did push his concept to the extreme, since not only Carmen, but also Don José and Micaëla turn out dead at the end of it.
But since the libretto didn't convey to such an extend the intentions Kusej wanted to showcase, he also took the liberty of rewriting the spoken dialogues, and in a very poorly manner.
All and all, I think this production is a failure.
Somewhere during its genesis, the concept became poisoned by its essence, Kusej lost all sense of balance, and the production became a mix of zombies and psychopaths (the zombies do appear quite litteraly during the children chorus "Avec la garde montante" in Act I, and are so disconnected from the music you can hardly escape the images of mediocre horror movies).
The other huge issue with this production is the cast.
Villazon is supposed to portray a dark, violent and nihilist Don José, but the result on stage is a disaster. There's no way he can identify with such a character, and he also has the tendency to forget his stage presence when singing a solo; "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" is the quintessential example of such a tendency; after a while, he wants so much to showcase his voice he enters the [wild-and-ridiculous gestures]-mode, that obviously fails even more the concept of Kusej.
Domashenko's Carmen is also a disaster.
She has no sex-appeal whatsoever and her stage presence is so cold and distant it's hard to see any inch of Carmen in her. The singing is also disappointing: bad projection, ugly high notes, and no modulation (between none and too much like Villazon, I'm afraid I can't pick one over the other).
Norah Ansellem's Micaëla and Alexander Vinogradov's Escamillo are also vocally weak, and the only ray of light comes from the chorus, though its performance is not flawless as well.
I'm also very critical of Barenboim's conduction; I understand his view, I just don't agree with it, and I think he doesn't serve the score as well as he could be.
Barenboim's idea is to shape the rhythmn of the score to display all the colors Bizet injected in each individual instrumental score but, in doing so, he loses the cohesive rhythm of the score as a whole - and the opera itself.
The result is a performance in which you can distinctly hear all the instruments, but that is overall quite feeble, lacking brightness and intensity.
I wonder if he'll keep this idea when Barenboim conducts Carmen in a few days for the Opening Night at La Scala...
Further reading : Mostly Opera's review