Carmen (Opera di Roma)

November 19, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FILM, MUSIC, Opera, OPERA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS | 0 Comments |

2017, Opera di Roma

Border Control, Under the Volcano and Breaking Bad meet in this production of Opera di Roma, disastrously staged & directed by Valentina Carrasco.  Of which more later, but whilst any dumb directorial decision cannot defeat Carmen, it may nevertheless diminish it somewhat.

Set impressively in the Roman Baths at the Terme di Caracalla (one was reminded of pop concerts at Red Rocks), the music stood out, with conductor Jesús López-Cobos content to let it do its own work in the main, and the leads in fine voice.  Veronica Simeoni is a fine exemplar of Bel Canto, although she is the inverse of Callas – singing good, acting not-so.  (Her response, we presume under direction, was to “go blue” in the acting department, and indeed there are quite a few ‘flashes’ throughout.)  Rosa Feola, as poor little discarded Micaëla, was the big hit of the night, perfectly balancing her beautiful numbers with a tasteful and meaningful dramatic performance.

Alexander Vinogradov as the Toreador, Escamillo, was more than adequate and persuaded us that Carmen would throw-over Don José for him.  In this effort he was aided by Roberto Aronica as Don José, stoic in a fairly thankless role.


The support was fine and given the demands of an outdoor production, the cast can’t really be faulted for their vocal work, although there were hints of disconnect twixt stage and baton at odd moments.

Which brings us back to…direction and another basket of modernist tropes, The Varnished Culture’s bête noire.

As a preface to the film, we were treated to several minutes of Carrasco wittering on about making Carmen relevant for today. The absurdity of such a statement was borne out in spectacular fashion once the party started.

Director Carrasco made the following decisions:

  1. Set the scene in the present day;
  2. Set it on the U.S. / Mexican border, complete with tumbleweeds;
  3. Feature bric-a-brac from the Day of the Dead;
  4. Garb the cast in back-alley street clothes;
  5. Parade numerous images of an anti-American bent;
  6. Introduce choreography that wouldn’t pass muster at Eurovision;
  7. Have the smugglers traffic in economic refugees;
  8. Feature kids playing with American guns;
  9. Have a conga line of awkward, out-of-step skeletons;
  10. Make Carmen (try to) twirl seductively with a limp, lifeless snake; and
  11. Shove on a little girl in angelic white as a portent of fate (shades of Tadzio!).


Further comment is probably superfluous but we would respond, seriatim, as follows:

  1. 1. OK, but why? On the other hand, it nicely explains the plane slowly trekking across the sky about Act III.
  2. 2. Not OK, and why?  As an excuse to bash Donald Trump? The Director’s Argentinian loathing of the U.S. was prevalent throughout, from the tearing-up of an American flag to the projecting of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents when the U.S. Border goons assaulted wetbacks or pocketed bribes.
  3. 3. Again, this is a decision unlikely to be commended to posterity.
  4. 4. Edith Head would be spinning in her crypt.
  5. 5. See 2 above.
  6. 6. The skeleton dance was particularly naff but there were shades of Kath and Kel Knight cast over the production.
  7. 7. Oy vey!
  8. 8. See 7 above.
  9. 9. See 6 above, and the danse macabre image.
  10. 10. Yep.  Didn’t work.  Though we didn’t mind the toreador on a high platform, treating the golden bull like a piñata.
  11. 11. Unlike the lad from Death in Venice, no one seemed to have explained what she was meant to be or represent. This meant that she came across as a sort-of handy work experience student.
 So there we are. We might add that there was some interference in the photography for the film, which appeared in a series of ghostly green lines hurled across the top of the Caracalla baths like radio static. We were warned in advance of this and it didn’t unduly affect our enjoyment. The same cannot be said of the high talking, chip-wrapper-scrunching members of the audience at our session.

Carmen is said to be bullet-proof. It is certainly Bizet’s finest compositional moment. Yet in watching this filmed production one found oneself, god help us, wishing they’d build that wall!  One found oneself, god help us, wishing we could vote for that nasty opportunist.





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