I must admit this wasn’t the Carmen of my dreams, as I left the theatre with the feeling that director Daniele Finzi Pasca hadn’t taken the drama too seriously. This production appeared weak in its concept, and, as moving as the story still remained and the performance was musically pleasant, the staging did not convince overall.

The director’ effort diminished the force and vitality which are highlighted by other productions, by mainly working with colours, lights and choreography, thus denouncing his origins as a circus artist and of director of the Cirque du Soleil. Hence, Moorish-style frameworks dotted with thousands of small bulbs and a hanging globe made up of hundreds of tiny lights were meant to create rarefied, dreamlike atmospheres; unfortunately all of this clashed against the passionate character and shocking sexuality which are the ardent essence of the opera.

The weirdest staging ideas were the tube-shaped neon lights carried by nine mimes who encircled Carmen, possibly representing the gleams of lust and passion she emanated; I found them mostly disturbing though, and they were greatly disliked by the audience, especially when Frasquita and Mercédès had to hold them while reading their fortunes from the cards. 

Zubin Mehta’s conducting was surely paced and fine-touched. He focused on the drama without being hefty, both in the big moments and in the intermediate passages: the prelude and the three entr’actes were pleasantly played, and the orchestra excelled throughout.

Maria José Montiel, in her hundredth assumption of the title role, did the job vocally as Carmen, but she has a lighter-weight voice, and sometimes one missed a vocally warmer colour. Her upper register is not exceptional, but the colour of her mezzo in the middle and low range is outstanding.

Brian Jagde made a Don José with a tender upper-register that’s needed for the best moments, for example in the aria “La fleur que tu m'avais jetée”. He sounded somewhat out of role at the start but then improved in the second act. Jagde’s best moments were some fine pianissimos he managed in his duet with Micaëla.

As Escamillo, Kostas Smoriginas did not try to compete with more lyrical baritones in the role, but gave a boastful interpretation, which proved effective all the same. Anyway, even if he vocally is a real baritone, he was not a solid Escamillo, needing some suppleness in the phrasing. Eleonora Buratto was at her best in a passionate portrayal of Micaëla. She stood out among the cast and showed how elegantly the role can be sung. Her gleaming voice and stage presence gained her an ovation at the end. She was at ease in the role, as she showed full high tones, oustanding dynamics and lovely pianissimi.

Sandra Pastrana and Giuseppina Bridelli were both standouts as Mercédès and Frasquita. They effectively teamed up with Carmen, particularly in the card-reading scene, in which their fates are much luckier than that of Carmen. Minor roles were all beautifully sung by Fabio Previati (Le Dancaïre), Carlo Bosi (Le Remendado). The choristers sang and acted with precision, and the children’s chorus was great.