Carmen, New York Metropolitan Opera, October 2000

By Paul Griffiths, New York Times 25 October 2000

There are times when the rest of "Carmen" seems like just a way of
getting to the great scene in the fourth act when everything else has
been cleared away, the minor characters, the chorus and, in Franco
Zeffirelli's staging at the Met, the flamenco dancers, the donkeys, the
priest and servers, the horses and the dogs, to leave just Carmen
and Don Jose onstage, alone and together. So it was on Monday night,
when the Met revived Mr. Zeffirelli's production for the first of only
five performances with Olga Borodina in the title role and Roberto
Alagna as her lover, her victim and her nemesis.

Ms. Borodina had been outstanding from well before this moment. With her
mocha-flavored voice   -  rich and dark, and yet full of expressive
fluctuation within that range   -   she had given full evidence of
Carmen's sensuality and pride from the first-act "Habanera" onward. She
used her face more than her body, and her voice more than either, as is
right. Carmen is a singer, first and last, and Ms. Borodina's
performance was fully and physically sung.

But in the last act she exceeded anything she had attempted up to that
point. The crucial line   -   the line that is one of the most desperate
in all opera: "No, I don't love you anymore"   -   she sang as if
certain of it, unflinchingly truthful, and yet at the same time
surprised and even a little appalled by the message she was conveying.
There was coldness in her voice, but also sensitivity. It was as if she
realized, in this moment, the different kind of love that Don Jose had
felt: not playful, wild and sudden, but sure and for the long term. She
knew now that the catastrophe was bound to happen, that she was going to

Mr. Alagna in this final scene was a man playing every card in his hand,
vocal and dramatic, and winning with each one of them. His singing was
consistently strong, impassioned right to the edge - but not
yond - of what good tone can support, and hugely versatile in
expressive weight and coloring. There was crazed hope here, violence,
spited love, sweetness, all turning into weapons, one of which was
certain to end up thrust into Carmen's side.

These two were, in every essence, the opera. But Rene Pape's Escamillo
was also a striking achievement. He used his height, his agility and his
roguish grin to excellent effect, but he also used his strong, steady,
blackish and seductive voice to create the image of rampant maleness in
a suit of lights.

Norah Amsellem, as Micaela, sounded a confident note of goodness in her
brightly sung prayer in the second act. Others in the cast included
Emily Pulley as Frasquita and Jossie Perez as Mercedes, the latter
showing a sultriness that was beautiful, yet precise, in her house

The conductor, Bertrand de Billy, often went for speed and squareness:
the opening sounded like the "Carmen" march Sousa never wrote. But in
that intense last scene he and the orchestra were vividly in support.

Borodina, Alagna sing splendidly in `Carmen'
By Mary Campbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 November 2000

Olga Borodina, recovering from a cold, and Roberto Alagna, in a role he took
on this season for the first time, provided splendid singing and plenty of charisma
at the Metropolitan Opera's ``Carmen.''

The opera, which also stars Rene Pape as the bullfighter, Escamillo, was
attractively acted, never overacted.

Alagna, a lyric tenor singing Don Jose, sounded fresh and looked
boyishly vulnerable faced with the sexy Carmen. The role is heavier than
usual for him, but his voice was big enough when dramatic volume was
called for and he had the breath to sustain long notes.

There was no sound of strain. An opera lover could worry whether Alagna
was doing long-term harm to a delicately beautiful voice, but Tuesday
night he sang a splendid Don Jose.

Before the opera began, it was announced that Borodina would sing,
despite the continuing effects of a cold and chest infection that had
caused her to cancel her performance at a Met concert Sunday.

No effects of the cold were evident. Her voice was lush, plush and
sensual, especially on the low notes; the top notes were clear. One nice
acting touch came when Carmen read her fortune in pantomime in Acts 1
and 2 before singing the Card Song -- and turning up the card for
death -- in Act 3.

Pape's Escamillo, the next man after Don Jose to entice the exotic gypsy
Carmen, also was charismatic, easily able to turn her head. He was
nonchalantly assured and his voice had heft and depth.

Norah Amsellem was a fine Micaela, the peasant girl from Don Jose's
village, and James Courtney was notable as Zuniga, a strutting captain.
Bertrand de Billy conducted.

The production is by Franco Zeffirelli. He made a great contrast between
the dark of Act 3's smugglers' mountain highout and the bright light of
Act 4's exterior of the bullring in Seville.

This page was last updated on: July 25, 2002