Carmen is a smart combination of exotism, passion, sensuality and violence that, being a great failure on its première in 1875, after Bizet’s death became one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, with some of the most beloved melodies in classical music.

The opera is particularly dear to the public in Salerno, as Teatro Verdi has staged it three time in the last ten years. This year’s production is to be appreciated for many reasons, starting from the direction. In times of Regietheater, that  is the modern directors’ practice to change the original historical context of an opera, Jean-Daniel Laval has diligently staged it as it was conceived, not trying to add any political point or modern parallels which are remote from the author’s intentions. Accordingly, the uniforms of early 19th century soldiers were uniforms of early 19th century soldiers, Spanish smugglers were dressed as we imagine a Spanish smuggler of that time was dressed (and gypsies, ditto).

The public could enjoy a Carmen as it was intended by Bizet, no more, no less, arranged in a traditional setting and with all the piece’s typical, reassuring features: a turbulent love story in an exotic setting, famed tunes (at times coarse and audience-pandering, in my opinion) and a sensual, untameable main character who immediately captures the public's attention.

In the title role Anna Caterina Antonacci created a Carmen quite believable in her bewitching charm. The Italian mezzo certainly has an expressive voice and fit to the part, her tone having the needed darkish quality, and she also possessed the agility to sing and act the Séguedille. Nonetheless, her interpretation did not possess enough seductive physicality. The Habanera, for instance, was given with a firm, secure tone, but without the passionate sultriness one expects. She gave her best in the moment of the dreadful premonition during the “card trio” with Mercédès and Frasquita, and in the finale, when she challenges Don José consciously pushing her way into tragedy.

The vocal star of the night was Alida Berti as Micaëla. The soprano was amazingly empathetic in a role which is not dramatically complex. Berti’s voice has the beautiful timbre of an authentic lyric soprano. As soft as she is the middle notes, in the high notes her delivery was always measured and her gentle vibrato did not affect the purity of the vocal line. Her aria in Act III was moving and she completely filled the empty set with her presence, delivering an ardent prayer that earned her the loudest applaud of the evening.

Spanish tenor Alejandro Roy played the role of Don José, showing visible effort into making the most of his role, but in the face of a voice quite clear and dry in timbre, the treble is not always in perfect focus. His Flower aria “La fleur que tu m'avais jetée”, though confidently sung, was not particularly impressive. Only in the final act, where weariness, both emotive and physical, did Roy make a compelling case for his role.

Alberto Gazale, displayed mature, warm and spirited tones perfectly suited to Escamillo, though at times he proved scenically overconfident. Gazale appeared more comfortable and convincing in comparison with Don José and the final duet with Carmen.

As for the rest of the cast singing, everyone did their job with great involvement. a special note deserve the excellent Dancaïre of Fabio Previati and Stefanna Kibalova who, as Frasquita stood out among a strong supporting cast.

The singers were well served by the Teatro Verdi orchestra, which, under Daniel Oren’s baton created a flowing yet controlled sound that brought out and maintained a tense atmosphere throughout the whole performance. Oren’s conducting was just about impeccable, as he led an intense, rousing account of Bizet’s score. He was always completely in touch with the singers, and his tempi accentuated the opera’s sensual side.

Francesco Aliberti’s chorus was superb, as was the children’s chorus of Silvana Noschese: both deserve special praise for the careful preparation and excellent performance.