Sam Shirakawa was in Bonn on January 13th for a new production of Bizet's Carmen:
What is Bizet’s Carmen really about?
With its references to terrorism, workers’ rights and social injustice, Florian Lutz’s new production of Carmen at Theater-Bonn makes more of the opera than the cautionary tale of femme fatale comeuppance might usually reveal. The throwaway contemporary sets and costumes by Andrea Kannapee suggest a societal infrastructure on the verge of collapse.
Some witty interpolations also exemplify Lutz’ practical imagination: the castanets are “played” on an electric typewriter.
Amusing ideas notwithstanding, any concept imposed on an opera as familiar as Carmen requires singers who can flesh out the plan. Theater-Bonn’s production is double-cast, so Lutz’s ideas may work better with the ensemble I didn’t see on my most recent visit to Beethoven’s home town.
Anjara Bartz has a bright, colorful mezzo-soprano, but her talents are ill-spent on Carmen. She is better suited for Mozart, musica antiqua and musicals. George Oniani undoubtedly can sing Don Jose, but he falls short in conveying the desperation of a man who chucks all for deceptive love. His expansive midriff also betrays an aging career soldier rather than a wide-eyed recruit. Irina Oknina’s Michaela tended to sharpen under pressure, but hers is an essentially solid voice that might serve her more satisfactorily at another performance. If Mark Morouse’s Escamillo could only look as glamorous as he sounds... But maybe that’s the point: what Carmen sees in the toreador we can only hear.
Consistently superior vocalism and an aptness for the part was evidenced by Emiliya Ivanova as Frasquita. The rest of the cast was rounded out competently by Kathrin Leidig as Mercedes, Tansel Akzeybek as Remendado and Giorgos Kananis as Dancairo.
Robin Engelen drew some exciting playing from the Beethoven Orchester Bonn.
The most exciting part of the evening for me was chatting briefly during intermission with the woman sitting next to me. When she told me she had sung Carmen at some major opera houses during her career, I asked her what her name was.
I’ve heard Eva Randova only a few times, but I have never forgotten her. She was a riveting Kundry (with Rene Kollo under Horst Stein) on my first visit to Bayreuth, and at her Met debut in 1981 was the most appealing Rheingold Fricka I’ve yet to hear live. I also heard her at the Met in Tannhäuser and Katya Kabanova. A superb and much underrated singer. She now coaches singers in Czech operas and is currently at Theater-Bonn, working on its forthcoming production of Rusalka. Randova also told me that my all-time lieblings-Brünnhilde, Ludmilla Dvorakova, is now living in retirement in the Czech Republic.
So never leave a performance, no matter how dull or awful. The person sitting next to you could make your day.
©Sam H. Shirakawa