Opéra de Montréal’s first production in 14 years of Bizet’s Carmen was highly anticipated due to the staging of renowned filmmaker Charles Binamé, who was taking on an opera for the first time. Considered the world’s most performed opera, Carmen was sold out months earlier, even after a fifth performance was added back in August 2018, and variable pricing had tickets soaring over $200 to the $300 range.
Binamé’s influence was disappointing on opening night (May 4, 2019). The set design was touted as quite grand, but the mysterious appearance of metal scaffolding holding together the façade seemed out-of-place. The lighting was generally poor with shadows often covering the faces. I rather liked the dingy reddish orange hue, but it obscured the detail of the fine costumes. Spotlights used occasionally, especially to highlight Don José’s presence at the bullfight, were too obvious. A large red fabric attached to Carmen at the beginning and reappearing at the end to signal her death seemed like a cliché. Also, why was there a crowd placed on stage to witness the stabbing without any reaction. In published interviews, Binamé indicated that he had been working with the singers for almost a year, but the results didn’t show to the back of the parterre.
The all-Canadian cast was under powering. Relatively unknown mezzo Krista de Silva looked the part and sang well, but her voice lacked legato and volume to be a convincing Carmen. Tenor Antoine Belanger was unstable in the first half, including almost cracking in his first duet with Micaëla, but recovered in the second half. Still, the role is too dramatic for him. Soprano France Bellemare as Micaëla sounded tired, especially in the first half; her second half aria was mostly touching. Apparently, Binamé had a say in the casting and his inexperience showed in the opera house. Perhaps, the video transmission of this production of Carmen funded by a $100,000 grant from the CALQ (schedule TBA) will work better.
What you missed
Some solid singing from baritone Christopher Dunham as Escamillo in the first half Toreadore song and the second half duet with José gave vocal relief. Secondary parts sung by Magali Simard-Galdès (Frasquita), Pascale Spinney (Mercédès), Dominique Côté (le Dancaïre), Éric Thériault (le Rémendado) and Alexandre Sylvestre (Moralés) were positives. Alain Trudel led the Orchestre Métropolitain in a fine reading. The chorus was generally good, despite the weak opening solder’s chorus.
- Profile of Christopher Dunham (by Adrian Rodriguez)
- Interviews from the press rehearsal (in French by Justin Bernard)
- Background on Carmen (published in The Gazette by Arthur Kaptainis)
- Carmen receives grant to be filmed (English | français)
This new production by Bizet’s Carmen, directed by Quebec filmmaker Charles Binamé, began on Saturday, May 4, at 7:30 pm in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts, and continues on May 7, 9, 11, 13. Production is sold out. www.operademontreal.com