Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Short Take: Bizet's Carmen

With Bizet's Carmen, the Italian director Francesco Rosi has put together what is perhaps the definitive film version of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera. The story is fairly homely. Don José, a dutiful career soldier, seems to have his whole life ahead of him. He's respected by his superiors, and he's about to become engaged. Micaëla, his prospective fiancée, is a loyal, responsible woman who has loved him her whole life. But when he meets Carmen, a flirtatious, headstrong factory worker, he's smitten, and he throws it all away for her. Her love proves fleeting, though, and her affections shift to Escamillo, a charismatic toreador. The libretto may seem banal, but Bizet's joyous sense of melody and orchestration made the opera one of the most popular ever written. Rosi's treatment is spectacular. He shot the film on location in Andalusia, and the open-air settings provide a grand stage. He also assembled a first-rate cast. Plácido Domingo, arguably the world's greatest tenor, stars as Don José. Carmen and Micaëla are respectively played by Julia-Migenes Johnson and Faith Esham, two seasoned American sopranos. The celebrated Italian basso Ruggero Raimondi plays Escamillo. It's a wonderful production, and it has its surprises. Domingo and Raimondi are the big-name draws in the cast, but it's the women who dominate the film. Julia Migenes-Johnson is terrific in the title role. She plays Carmen's brazen, taunting sexuality with a hilarious comic edge, and that joy in naughtiness walks hand-in-hand with a fierce willfulness. Her Carmen is a tiny woman, but she takes what she wants, and God help anyone who gets in her way. Her showpiece number, the first act's famous "Habañera," is a saucy delight. And while Migenes-Johnson takes acting honors, Faith Esham is the stand-out in terms of singing. Her third-act solo "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante [I say nothing frightens me]," has the film's most gorgeously performed vocals. Rosi seems to know it, too. He gives the recording a witty encore: the song repeats as if it was an extended echo through the mountains. The awesome landscape visuals not only enhance the beauty of Esham's singing, they complete it. For all the song's intimacy, it may be the most epic musical moment ever filmed. The picture's behind-the-scenes artisans--including cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis, production designer Enrico Job, and choreographer Antonio Jades--all do superb work. The score was performed by the Orchestre National de France, and conducted by Lorin Maazel. Rosi and Tonino Guerra adapted Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy's 1875 libretto, which was in turn adapted from a 1845 novella by Prosper Merimée.

No comments:

Post a Comment