Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Georges Bizet, Carmen - Salzburger Landestheater, Felsenreitschule

Premiere performance 18th October

If George Bizet had written his opera Carmen today maybe the people on stage wouldn't work at a cigarette factory and smuggle cigarettes but doing this with drugs. That’s exactly what the audience had to go through in the new production of the opera by Andreas Gergen at the Salzburger Landestheater, which had its opening night last sunday. In co-operation with Peter J. Davidson (stage set) and Conny Lüders (costumes) he creates an atmosphere of the drug-war, like it is happening nowadays in Mexico. This point stands out clearly at the beginning when the "fate-motive" is heard first in the overture: one of the extras shoots up himself to death and is carried off stage by some of the soldiers during the first choir. But also the field of red poppy speaks for the production of drugs. Well, why not? The audience would even see over the scene in which Carmen gives Don Jose the flower and pours water out of a bucket onto him - originally she throws it on him - and a modern hero of bullfight is expected to drive an extravagant luxurious car and to have a tightdressed woman on his side like a popstar today. Though you have to get used to the costumes especially to the women’s' one. Frasquita's and Mercedes's dress are covered with sequins and remembered me of the production of La cage aux follies just as the bull-costumes of the female ballet dancers: shocking pink hot pants and bras - again with sequins - , the baby-blue patent boots and the glittering golden horns. But on the top of this Michaela's costume during her aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante": Jose shoots up himself before this aria and hallucinate her as Madonna wearing a blue cloak, a pink glittering dress and a halo in combination with a tiara. An interesting interpretation which is turned into absurdity by the costume. The men were luckier with their costumes: military uniforms, black trousers and shirts for the smugglers and stylized torero-pants in purple for the male dancers and white for Escamillo.
The scenery of the Felsenreitschule is used partly: at the beginning of the third act there were three smugglers coming down the wall and also the gallery was in use. At the final scene the choir - playing the audience of the bullfight - and some of the brass section where positioned there and in the second act the ballet dancers performed the dance Carmen should dance for Don Jose, which wasn't really showed on stage. At this point it should be mentioned that the ballet ensemble (choreography: Peter Breuer) presented a solid performance but should work a bit more on the synchronicity.
The last scene turns up a question which is not answered to the audience: what is happening with the feelings of Jose? First of all he stabbed her with a knife in a really unspectacular way - the audience may have expected that he shoots her up to death - after that he rejoices before he breaks down crying on his beloved Carmen. What was Andreas Gergen thinking about at this scene? This question also appears if you're thinking about the extra-person on stages representing the death. He wasn't as disturbing as the marionettes in the Zauberflöte production last season but just as superfluous as them.
All in one a production which isn't that bad but could be staged at the Landestheater in the same way what would be better for the singers because the room isn't that big.
Elena Stikhin (Michaela) with her brilliant and clear lyric soprano and Raimundus Juzuitis (Zuniga) with his dark but still youthfully sounding bass voice were the only ones of the soloist ensemble who really convinced by their singing and acting level. They had no problems with the wideness an size of the room and could be heard clear over the orchestra sound.(Normally you say the orchestra is too loud if you don’t hear the singers enough but in this case the orchestra’s sound level was appropriate for the room.) In the speaking passage it was the same the actors weren’t talking loudly enough so that they could be heard clearly except of Raimundus Juzuitis.
Concerning the acting Oksana Volkova (Carmen) and Andeka Gorrotxategi (Don Jose) did a good job. He had a really nice sounding bright lyric tenor which matches to the role and could reflect emotions in his voice. But it was a pity that he nearly wasn’t able to be heard over the orchestra in his middle register at some passages. Similar in Vonkova’s case. Her voice was rather dark sounding, sometimes to dark so that she sounded muffled. The mentioned problem to drown the orchestra was also to be heard in the performance of the other soloist: Elliott Carlton Hines (Morales/Dancairo), Zachary Nelson (Escamillio) together with Laura Nicorescu (Frasquita), Rowan Hellier (Mercedes) and Franz Supper (Remendado) who are in the soloist ensemble of the Landestheater. It also should be mentioned that the voices of Laura Nicorescu and Rowan Hellier didn’t assort well with each other in some passages.
The Chor des Salzburger Landestheaters ( + extra-choir) (rehearsal: Stefan Müller) and the children’s choir (rehearsal: Wolfgang Götz) did a very good job.
The performance, especially of the soloists of the wind instruments (Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg), under the conductorship of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was outstanding. She conducted in clear, big and fluent movements which were also energetic and active. Next to the space-filling sound she was able to outline chamber music like passages very well too. For this reason alone the performance is worth visiting.
All in one the performance gets 6 stars and I wish they would relocate the production in the next season into the Landestheater which would be better in terms of acoustics for the singers.
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Reviewed by Katharina Schiller

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