Bizet – Carmen
Carmen – Stella Doufexis
Don José – Jeffrey Dowd
Micaela – Erika Roos
Escamillo – Dimitry Ivashchenko
Zuniga – Jens Larsen
Frasquita – Anastasia Melnik
Mercedes – Elisabeth Starzinger
Dancaire – Stephan Boving
Remendado – Joska Lehtinen
Morales – Ipca Ramanovic
Chorsolisten und Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin / Josep Caballé- Domenech.
Stage Director – Sebastian Baumgartner.
Komische Oper Berlin, Sunday, December 18th, 2011.
So, yes, I’m sure this begs the question – why would a native bilingual English/French speaker go to a performance of the greatest of all French operas (even though it is set in Spain) in a German translation in Berlin? Well, why not? The truth is that the Komische Oper is a great little theatre. Ticket prices are supremely affordable – I paid EUR24 for a good seat at the back of the stalls. The audience is young and enthusiastic and the theatre concentrates on innovative productions. Actually, some of the piece was indeed performed in French – ‘l’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ was as was ‘les tringles des sistres tentaient’. At times the dialogue was performed in Serbian, English and Andaluz. Yes, I needed to make some adjustment but no more so that when I attend ENO. The Komische Oper also offers seat back translations in German, English, French and Turk so I programmed mine to display the original.
The Andaluz dialogue came thanks to a character called Manuela performed by the Berlin flamenco artist, Ana Menjibar. She joined two blokes on guitars to perform a few flamenco numbers during the show and to be honest, while it was useful during the scene changes, the guitars started to grate after a while as they accompanied a lot of the dialogue. Menjibar did offer great comic relief during the dialogue though although I think the jokes were lost on the Berlin audience as there didn’t seem to be many Spanish-speakers in the audience.
Sebastian Baumgartner set the show in some urban wasteland someplace where Banco Santander has offices. The soldiers appeared to be military police and the rest of the cast performed in modern dress. Video projections (Jan Speckenbach) added visual interest during the entractes and from time to time while the cast performed. It was an incredibly detailed, competent production although not a patch on Bieito’s at the Liceu last year. The problem was that this is an incredibly dramatic tale and Baumgartner didn’t push along the action as much as he could have (too many interludes from the blokes on guitars for example) and that meant that it dragged a little too much.
Stella Doufexis was a tall, rangy Carmen although vocally she was redolent of another mezzo of Hellenic origins in her orange-tinted tone. She also reminded me a little of Teresa Berganza. I’m sure that she would make a better Composer or Octavian than Carmen though. There wasn’t quite enough femme in the femme fatale in her portrayal. She seemed like a woman who could take care of herself and not one who needed to woo men as Carmen does.
Jeffrey Dowd was a good enough Don José, despite being vocally strained he made a great effort to produce some soft singing during the flower song. He never really came across as a particularly sympathetic character though. Erika Roos has a lyric soprano of great promise and sounds like a terrific Chrysotemis in the making. She was dressed as some kind of image of the Virgin Mary, yes I know Micaela is supposed to me viriginal but it is really that necessary to signpost it? Dimitry Ivashchenko was an efficient enough Escamillo and Jens Larsen was a competent Zuniga. Joska Lehtinen was a much sexier Remendado than one usually comes across and Anastasia Melnik and Elisabeth Starzinger offered strong support in the smaller female roles.
The chorus had a good afternoon and they gamely entered into the spirit of the production. The Komische orchestra also played with great accomplishment for Josep Caballé (any relation?). It was a well judged interpretation although he could probably have pushed it forward a little bit to cover up the longueurs in the production.
On the whole this was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. The last Carmen I saw was Bieito’s at the Liceu and this showed up the differences between a competent director and a great one. There were too many gimmicks in this show as if Baumgartner was afraid to let the story speak for itself.