Some things do not change. Go to a premiere of carmen, and invariably there are many women in the audience with bright red dresses or red flowers in their hair. This was also the case last Saturday at the Dutch National Opera, which opened the opera season with a revival of 2009, directed by Robert Carson. It was received mixedly at the time, but there was a lot of praise for the impressive final stage image. Hundreds of extras sat in a semicircle around the bullfighting arena, as a figurative mirror for the audience in the hall. And everyone, in the hall and on stage, clapped as Carmen’s corpse was handed over after the last notes. Even now it was undiminished painful, and well hit.
The strange thing about this performance is that the world of 2009 feels light years away. The visitor in 2022 sees Carmen and José’s relationship differently than the visitor from thirteen years ago. However, the Dutch National Opera did not really do anything about it: even in the program booklet the cliché of the ‘femme fatale’ is not omitted.
All this does not make the fun for the singers any less. Don José (Stanislas de Barbeyrac) sings loudly and with empathy, you really get to deal with his clumsy love for Carmen that is clearly out of reach. Micaëla (Adriana González) sings with wonderful control over her dynamics, especially in height. The supporting female roles are beautifully performed with Inna Demenkova and Polly Leech, and Michael Wilmering has infectious fun as a smuggler.
But it is J’Nai Bridges who carries the performance with an almost ideal Carmen. The depth of her chest voice was both sexy and authoritative. She didn’t play Carmen over the top, but seriously: not a frivolous debauchery but a woman full of restrained, stubborn anger who approaches the world with compassion.
While this earnest Carmen fiercely resisted Jose’s possessiveness, conductor Jordan de Souza struggled with his own problems. If you during the performance thoughts such as: “what a difficult job such a conductor actually has”, that is usually a bad sign. And indeed, at the end the chorus and orchestra really got out of line, detracting from the drama of the final scenes, or at least setting it off with a very different kind of drama. Apart from that derailment, the orchestra sounded too mechanical in the evening anyway, barring a beautiful cello solo. A small damper for the red-headed visitors, because these orchestral parts ideally sound endlessly sultry.
Read it here interview with opera singer J’Nai Bridges