Carmen @ Home with Opera de Montreal

Photo credit: Yves Renaud

Many of us tend to rewatch our favourite movies over and over again. This led me to wonder why we do not do the same with live theatre or opera. One of the benefits of this period of isolation and distancing is that we have more free time on our hands so we are looking for things to do. This is where groups like Opera de Montreal jump in. They have not been able to stage a live opera production for over a year now so have started to look for and/or offer different ways we can enjoy their product. In comes streaming. We can watch previous or even present productions at home from the comfort of our own living rooms. The excuses we might have used like time or travel are taken out of the equation. We are now programmers in that we choose when we can watch.

All that being said, Opera de Montreal is offering its 2019 production of the famous opera Carmen from March 19, 2021 until March 19, 2022. No excuses! You have a year to watch it. You just go to the streaming page on the Opera de Montreal site – https://www.operademontreal.com/en/shows/streaming – and pay for access and you are ready to watch.

One of the operas being offered for streaming is Carmen. This is one of the most famous operas. Even for those who are not big opera fans you will recognize some of the music from it. So it is a great opera to watch for all levels of opera connoisseurs.

Briefly the story is about love, as most operas are. Written by George Bizet wrote the opera in 1875 and is sung in French. There are also French subtitles on the screen. The opera is set around 1830 in Seville and is a story of love and jealousy Don José. He is a soldier who arrives in Seville and meets Carmen, a gypsy factory girl. He is almost immediately under her spell. So much so that he is lured away from his job as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla. Don José is tasked with escorting Carmen to prison, but so strong is his attraction to her he allows her to escape. Even further digging his own grave he is lured into joining up with Carmen and the band of smugglers she associates with. Soon jealousy is rearing its ugly head. This jealousy explodes out of control when Carmen tells him that her love is for the bullfighter Escamillo. Soon a stabbing happens outside a bullring in Seville. Tragedy is the ending.

photo credit: Yves Renaud

Well known film director Charles Binamé is the director of this production. This was his first time directing an opera. Back in May 2019 when it was sold out months before opening night, demonstrating the public’s interest in not only the opera but the fact that Binamé was attached. We get his vision of how to tell this story.

Binamé stays rather faithful to the source material though does give a few of his own touches. One that I did not enjoy was his choices in regards to lighting. Some of the time it left the faces of those singing in partial or almost total shadow. Another strange decision was to bring in a large number of the cast to watch the murder at the end. Led me to wonder why not one would try to step in or many would react to what goes on. What I did appreciate was how physical the opera is. Loads of dancing and movement. Even some tussling. Brought up the level of realism for me.

The cast is an all-Canadian one featuring Krista De Silva as Carmen, Antoine Belanger as Don José, France Bellemare as Micaella, and Christopher Dunham as Escamillo. De Silva really looks the part of Carmen with her dark flowing hair and seductive body language. Dunham’s voice really impressed me. His voice in the famous Toreadore song was a highlight. Bélanger, while his voice is not a stunner, is the best “actor” in the cast and he really used that to the production’s benefit when he brought Don José through his stages of virtual madness. Did so very realistically. The chorus or rest of the cast also turns in a strong performance on the whole.

The set is by Olivier Mandeville and is uneven. Some are rather impressive while other times head scratching. Dominique Guindon’s costumes, when we could see them well, were beautiful.

Surrounding and supporting the voices in a fantastic way is the orchestra conducted by Alain Trudel. Does a great job with the well known music. Plus he was even called upon by Binamé to write some original music for some in between parts. Special notice has to be given to those playing wind instruments as they really stood out for me.

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