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Kosky’s Carmen: No-one’s cheering

February 7, 2018 by norman lebrecht

19 comments.


After all the hype for Covent Garden’s new Carmen, the morning-after reviews are decidedly mixed.

David Gutman in The Stage calls it a ‘heartless, sometimes brilliantly theatrical, staging.’ He adds: ‘Carmen retains an androgynous look until the final scene imprisons her in a florid gown.’

Mark Valencia in What’s On Stage condemns Kosky’s ‘215-minute vanity project’. He writes: ‘Neither does it give me any pleasure to lament the Royal Opera’s questionable casting for its new flagship production. Anna Goryachova has an attractive, full-bodied mezzo but her Carmen was indecipherable and her intonation wayward. However, it is not her fault that the production’s antics allow for zero sexual chemistry with Francesco Meli.’

David Nice in theartsdesk.com: ‘Part of the problem in this first-cast airing of Kosky’s show at the Royal Opera – it was first seen in Frankfurt in 2016 – is a dramatically weak Don José. Francesco Meli’s is a strenuous, unhoneyed tenor voice: good, at least, for the more brutish later stages. As a character, this José is grim and wooden. Kosky isn’t interested in making him sympathetic. Yes, we know from Merimée’s novella that the Basque outsider has a violent history by the time of his fatal meeting with Carmen in Seville. Should that make him a cold psychopath, though, totally unresponsive to Micaëla, the girl who brings him news of his mother?’

photo: Bill Cooper/ROH

UPDATE: First of the national newspapers –

Rupert Christiansen writes in the Telegraph: One great virtue of Barrie Kosky’s new staging, imported from Frankfurt, is that it has shaken my complacency – it is certainly different. But being different is not quite enough, and I felt increasingly dissatisfied as the evening progressed….

There is much musical material, excised from the standard editions, that I hadn’t previously heard – notably another entrance aria for Carmen, a comic aria for Moralès, and a much longer duet for José and Micaela. Some of this is delightful, some better left in the library. The spoken dialogue is replaced by an off-stage narration, using French text mostly drawn from the opera’s source in Mérimée’s novella. It’s all electrically alive, fresh, witty, energised and provocative.

Gradually, however, as so often with Kosky’s work, it loses steam: the first two acts last nearly two hours, and there is less new music to keep one alert.

Tim Ashley in the Guardian:Barrie Kosky’s new Royal Opera production of Carmen hails from Frankfurt, where it was first seen in June last year. It’s a curious staging, shot through with flashes of brilliance, though by no means cohering into a musical or dramatic whole.

As one might expect, Kosky aspires to postmodern radicalism. He has largely dispensed with Spain, apart from a few flounced frocks and matador uniforms. Don’t expect a tobacco factory or cigarette girls smoking, or indeed anything that smacks of particularly French naturalism.

Richard Morrison in the Times: There’s a disconcerting dichotomy in Kosky’s concept, however. While Goryachova’s Carmen and Kostas Smoriginas’s caricature glamour boy Escamillo are clearly meta-theatrical figures — ironic characters who know they are play-acting — it’s evident that Francesco Meli’s Don José and Kristina Mkhitaryan’s Micaëla come from the conventional operatic world of ardent passions and pathos. Kosky attempts to make drama out of the clash between the styles, but it’s not always convincing.


Comments (19)

  1. Player says:

    It is a complete mess. Next!

    1. David Nice says:

      Love it or hate it, a mess it is not. Everything is worked through with meticulous precision. Given certain German regietheater which doesn’t give a damn about what people do within the concept, that at least should be found refreshing.

      Anyway, it’s a relief to find that most of us quoted above are in accord. I wish the excellent Richard Morrison weren’t hidden behind a wall for which, given the Times ownership, I will not pay; what’s quoted about about the contrast between meta-theatrical and operatic characters is spot on.

      I hope, at least, to see the second cast. There’s so much to absorb.

      1. Player says:

        No fidelity to or love of the piece, just empty display and pointless energy. No connection, no truth, no concept even.

        Carmen dressed as a gorilla, maniacal laughter from a dancer at the end of a scene, silly and infantilising depiction of Micaela, boring and loud monotony of narrator as Carmen who sounded depressive and which interrupted or talked over the music at several points….I could go on.

        The singing was second rate; the playing was average and mostly coarse and generic; it was AWFUL.

        Enough?

        No empathy with any of the characters!

  2. Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    I saw it in Frankfurt – excellent cast/ensemble and orchestra – and enjoyed BK’s production very much. Maybe it works better when mounted and performed by a true ensemble company with the requisite rehearsal period for a totally brand new production.

    1. David Nice says:

      Good point. Presumably the Don Jose could act – that matters in a Kosky production.

  3. Rinsed Probus says:

    “zero sexual chemistry”
    ROTFLMAO. What do you expect, with the “#metoo” crowd likely to classify a male person breathing the same air as a woman as sexual predation?

    1. Sue says:

      Precisely. But, as usual, everybody wants it all their own way.

      I’m glad you’ve got Kosky, which means we in Australia don’t have to tolerate his antics anymore. Sorry, but he’s an attention-seeker Class 1. Sans class, ironically enough.

  4. Helene Kamioner says:

    If anyone see Barry Kosky tell him I love him.

    1. Opera Nut says:

      Yes. You are lucky to be rid of him. The Kosky mania is the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ of opera. In his productions, there are clear misogynist tendencies; women are generally ridiculed or one dimensional characters, never fully developed, powerful characters. There is a lot in the media about bullies in the theatre: You don’t need to talk to many singers, to work out how this plays out in the current European opera scene.

      1. David Nice says:

        Patently false of this Carmen – she is the one living character, she calls the shots. That I liked and respected. You will see another poster calling out what he (I presume) sees as the ‘political correctness’.

  5. Edmund J. Cole says:

    If you want Carmen the way Bizet conceived it, Buy Beecham and De Los Angeles on CD or Maazel and Johnson on DVD. Shove the Regietheater stuff it is responsible for the empty Houses.

  6. F KAVUR says:

    There is a saying in book publishing business, “only good author is a dead author, beyond copyright thresholds” .

    This could not be more relevant to the new CARMEN. Given both the libretrist & the composer of it are conveniently six foot under, it is a field day for another egomaniac director with no talent, who seeks to make a name for himself purely by effacing from the work any trace of its libretist or composer. Merrimé or Bizet no longer exist, the “director” has replaced them both.

    It is absolutely disgusting that ROH, thriving on subsidies, donations and exorbitant ticket prices, chose to butcher work of great artists, for their livelihood does not depend on the audience reaction. Ask the ROH management to survive, like a film producer, purely on box office, then we’ll see how they behave.

    This is sheer snobbery, pretending to be “Avant Garde”, relying purely on the fact that composer & the libretrist of CARMEN are long dead, and there is not a damned thing they can do about their work being raped.

    1. Maria says:

      “Ask the ROH management to survive, like a film producer, purely on box office, then we’ll see how they behave.”

      An extremely silly comparison. A film is not live and can be duplicated and distributed to 1,000+ cinemas simultaneously, world-wide. It has economies of scale that an opera house does not.

      I think cinema tickets in the UK should be cheaper.

  7. Iain Scott says:

    ” as so often with Kosky’s work, it loses steam”
    Drivel and inaccurate to boot. I encountered Kosky years ago when he brought his Melbourne ensemble to the Edinburgh Festival in a product of Poppea. Naturally it was not the Monteverdi music but that of Cole Porter,a composer he rates beside Schubert,and it was fabulous.
    I have seen a number of productions-Zauberflote,La Belle Helene and of course Saul at Glyndbourne and they have always been thoughtful and stimulating and completely in accord with the music.
    He is no proponent of regietheater he is simply a fine director and musician.

  8. John G. Deacon says:

    After his Bayreuth Meistersinger, with the last act set at the Nürnberg War Trials, I added this director to my list of perpetrators of theatrical hooliganisms to be avoided at all costs(aka black list). With regietheater being as it is these days the list is always growing.

    Here in Valencia we’ve recently seen Philip II singing “Ella giammai m’amo” crawling around all over the floor…..

    1. Christina Henson-Hayes says:

      Your comment made me laugh out loud.I hate that sort of staging only slightly less than the staging of a love scene where two singers drop, with much awkwardness, to the floor while singing, as if lovers everywhere simply collapse in the spot where they happen to be standing in order to take the next step. No, don’t seek out a settee or a bed or even a desk. Just try to sing out to the audience, look in each others eyes, and try not to fall over while sinking into the ground. Gods, I hate that.

      1. David Nice says:

        Probably wise not to comment if you haven’t seen it (and I suspect very few of those sounding off here have). The important emotional moments are sung, dead still, straight out to the audience (like Carmen’s big solo in the Card Scene, and Don Jose’s Flower Song). The activity is very marshalled and well choreographed, the polar opposite of the mess one sometimes gets even in supposedly ‘traditional’ productions. Kosky knows what he’s doing with his singers. This is a director of serious intent, even if I thought that roughly half of this production didn’t work – please don’t dishonour him with cheap sniggers.

        1. Player says:

          Well, at least you concede that 50% of it didn’t work. I put the rot quotient at at least 80%. A shame, because I liked Saul, Meistersinger… This had none of the thoughtfulness and soul of those.

          A newbie would have found it baffling. This old hand thought it perverse. Not offensive really, but perverse.

        2. Iain Scott says:

          Well said.


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