Tag Archives: Carmen

on Carmen’s anniversary, a sing-off to celebrate

Bizet’s Carmen

Editor’s note: This is a Golden Operatoonity post.

Today, March 3, marks the anniversary of Bizet’s Carmen, which premiered on this day in Paris in 1875.

With one work, Bizet ushers in the verismo opera movement.

Carmen is hardly my favorite opera. As a storyteller, it’s damned hard for me to like Carmen as the central figure in this opera. She’s hard, calculating, cruel and fatalistic. Modern mores sometimes prevent other operagoers from engaging with Carmen as well, as evidenced  in comments such as, “Why is everyone smoking on stage? That’s ridiculous for a bunch of singers” or “A cigarette factory is a goofy setting for an opera.”

Whatever you think about Carmen or the setting or the preposterousness of the storyline, however much you might scratch your head or downright ache for Don Jose’s complete meltdown over a woman not worthy of him, it is Bizet’s soaring, riveting music that lifts the opera into the realm of exceptional works.

Today, in celebration of Carmen, rather than trot out the expected treatments of Habanera, etc., I’d like to offer you Don Jose’s “Flower” aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” as sung by various artists.

First we have a clip of  Jonas Kaufmann. Truly, this is one of the most exquisitely complete performances of this aria available on YouTube. He sings and acts the HELL out of it, and for me, I have to have more than a pretty sound to really relish opera performance. I think Kaufmann is the most complete male performer today. You will love this, that is, if you have no moral objections to a tenor voice with a unique baritone quality to it.

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Next we have Roberto Alagna’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” which sounds exquisite, but he doesn’t exude that tortured spirit,the inner demons, that is so essential to the portrayal of Don Jose.

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Next is José Carreras from a 1987 Metropolitan Opera production. He certainly sings the dickens out of this. Truly, a world class tenor. His gestures, his posture are more gallant than tortured.  It’s amazing that Carmen (Agnes Baltsa) sits still as a statue and is unmoved by that performance. Also worth noting is how much the style of opera performance has changed in one generation, from Carreras to Kaufmann.

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While Carreras vocally is the strongest, Kaufmann’s is the best total performance, followed by Carreras, then Alagna. What say you, opera devotees?

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Filed under anniversary, Golden Operatoonity, Premieres, tenors, verismo opera, Video

opera and premonition

Have you ever had a premonition? A presentiment of the future of the foreboding variety?   

I had one once when I was 19. While in the midst of a busy day acting and singing, I was overtaken that something bad had happened to my mother. I was studying performing arts in New York City at the time and about three hours from home. The next day, sure enough, I got a call from my sister that my mother had had a stroke and had been taken to the intensive care unit of the hospital where she was as likely to die as live.   

What is so striking about this premonition is that I’d never had one before. I wish I could describe it– like a pall I couldn’t shake until the reality of the premonition coming true jars you out of it. And my mother had rarely been sick when I was younger, so believe me, a seemingly healthy fifty-two year old suffering a stroke wasn’t anything anyone could have predicted.   

This week in opera history, Bizet will die on June 3,  1875, just outside of Paris at only36 years of age–of heart failure. While Bizet’s death at an early age is common knowledge, what you might not know is that the leading lady who premiered the role of Carmen had a premonition of Bizet’s death. When I read about the incident, I could well relate to how she must have felt.   

Celestine Galli-marie, who originated the role of Carmen

Parisian born mezzo-soprano Célestine Galli-Marié whose crowning operatic achievement was creating the role of Carmen became close to Bizet over the months of rehearsal. Only months after the show opened at the Opéra Comique in Paris, on the thirty-first performance, she arrived at the theater inexplicably anxious. In the third act, after Carmen foresees her own death in the “Card Trio,” she collapsed backstage. Not because something happened to her but because she knew “something dreadful” had happened elsewhere. The next day she learned that Bizet had died the night before.   

Galli-Marié was a difficult performer. Though she hardly originated the prototypical opera diva, she certainly was a standard bearer for the stereotype. Apparently she made Bizet rewrite the “Habanera” thirteen times until it passed muster. Perhaps if she hadn’t made him work so hard, he would have lived longer.   

So what causes these premonitions, do you think? According to one site I consulted, premonitions are attributed to the existence of paranormal capabilities and are thought to be “another fragment of the psychic abilities that everybody has, but not everybody may be in tune to applying.” Apparently, the most common method to receive a premonition is by way of a dreams, the rationale being that dreams provides us with knowledge our conscious mind does not.   

Neither Galli-Marié’s nor my premonition came via a dream. Have you ever had a premonition? Do you know of any other true-to-life opera premonitions?

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, opera anecdotes, Performers, Premieres

bass-bari Raimondi defines ‘Escamillo’

Ruggero Raimondi as Escamillo

Within the annals of opera performance, certain singers transcend the roles they play, ultimately defining them.  One such transcendent performer illuminating an operatic role is bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi in the role of Escamillo, the toreador, in Carmen

Don Giovanni, Simon Boccanegra, Boris Godunov, Iago, Don Quichotte — you name it. There’s virtually no great bass-bari role Raimondi hasn’t sung. But just like we favor movie actors in certain roles (will anyone else ever play the Rain Man as convincingly Dustin Hoffman?), Raimondi is the essence of the matador Escamillo, like he was born to sing the part. Like the part was written for him. 

Watch this clip from the 1984 movie version and see if you don’t agree that Raimondi is The Matador. 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Heartstoppers, Performers, Video

don’t quote me . . .

 

Let us have fantasy, boldness, unexpectedness, enchantment—above all, tenderness,  morbidezza (softness)!
—Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, opera quotes