Gaëlle Arquez, the indomitable Carmen on the Place de la Bastille

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Paris. Bastille Opera. 15-eleventh-2022. Georges Bizet (1838-1875): Carmen, an opera in four acts. Libretto by Henri Melak and Ludovic Halevy. Director: Calixto Beato; Collections: Alphonse Flores. Costumes: Merce Paloma; Spotlights: Alberto Rodriguez Vega; With: Gael Arquez, Carmen; Michael Spiers; Don Jose; Lucas Michem, Escamillo; Golda Schultz, Michaela; Marc Labonnet, Dancaïre; Loic Felix, The Remendado; Alejandro Ballenas Viets, Zúñiga; Thomas Comega, Morales; Andrea Cueva-Molnar, Frasquita; Adele Charvet, Mercedes; Karim Belkhadra, Lilas Bastia. Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Conductor: Ching-Lien Wu), Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine (Director: Gaël Darchen) and Children’s Chorus of the Paris National Opera. Musical direction: Fabian Gable

Georges Bizet’s irrepressible opera once again occupied the Opéra Bastille at the Théâtre Calixto Beato, and finally in Paris! Gael Arquis as Carmen.

First performed in 1999 at the Peralada Festival, the opera, staged by Calixto Beato, then toured the world to Paris in 2017. During the same period (2016-2017) Gael Arquez toured Europe, playing Carmen in Frankfurt, London and Madrid. .. except in France! Here she is finally, until December 3rd, at the heart of the high-flying cast, “partner” onstage with Michael Spiers, at the pinnacle of his artistry as Don Jose. Production will change headlines after this date, for several shows that will follow one another from the beginning of 2023 until the end of February.

Premiere night. Bastille s’est rempli et, dans la penombre, des retardataires se faufilent encore dans les rangs du parterre tandis que l’Orchestre de l’Opera national de Paris entonne vaillamment l’ouverture, dirigé by the chef Fabien Gabel, who made his debuts at home. The curtain rises on an almost empty space: in the garden, a telephone booth in the middle of nowhere, from which Carmen will come out, in the middle a flagpole on which the Spanish flag is hoisted at dawn, and that’s it. It’s night there. We guess a line of guards in the background, a drunk crossing the stage (Lillas Pastia), while a man in arms, athletic and semi-nude, draws a circle to exhaustion. It is this circle that will be the ring in which the tragedy will take place in the fourth act. The Spanish director chose the abstract, understated decor of Alphonse Flores to show not a fantastical and picturesque Spain, not the likable fantasy characters, mythical heroes of the Mérimée work, but beings from ordinary life in what most believed in their humanity, embarking on a story made up of power struggles, violence , and seduction, in Franco-ravaged Spain of the 1970s. A way of ridding the most famous opera in the world of its clichés, which is commendable, by giving it its timeless and therefore current dimension, despite this historical reference, as some anachronisms attest (selfies of Micaela and Don José for example). And so the action takes place on the Frontier, a place where a corrupt army and its soldiers with unbridled sexuality meet the world of smuggling, smugglers and their seductive accomplices who stop at nothing, be it sex or alcohol. A delightful element of the stage, the white “Mirko”, the emblematic vehicle of this environment, enters the group in Act 2, and then in Act 3 in several versions forming an assembly, topped with questionable canvas-covered loads. There will be an important motif like another in Act 4: in particular this majestic and formidable silhouette of the bull, an iconic figure of the Spanish roads and overlooking the landscape, is supposed to represent loneliness, but also the mood of Carmen himself, through the indomitable character, his refusal Confinement, and the fate that awaits him in the arena. The nudity of the decoration is also at the end: a simple line of white chalk to draw the circle of the yellow sandy arena in which an overwhelming light shines, the end of the final confrontation between Carmen and Don José.

This tidy show has the advantage of focusing attention on the characters shown without compromise. Minimizing the sets means orienting the actors to line, both through the characterization of the roles and also in the way the characters occupy space: such is the strength of this production that offers a tough and powerful vision. Without complacency or exaggeration. Here we are confronted with the truth of human nature without being able to look away, like Carmen who will look her fate squarely in the eye of the final scene. Bieito plays on the contrasts of the libretto to their apogee, in this fourth act where, while the colorful and jubilant crowd (full choirs that take up the entire stage) explode with solar and resounding joy before Escamillo’s (unseen) brilliant prowess, a black, otherwise violent, chorida between Carmen and Don José (she was clearly visible) … Previously, the poetic arc had given a breath, during the musical interlude that opens this very act: a nude dancer gracefully makes a few strokes of the head like a bullfighter preparing to fight, to the harmoniously interwoven sounds of flute and harp …

On the orchestral side, the production is also well presented. Fabian Gable, the quick and precise gesture, masterfully arranges the colors of this seductive music, in all the palette of colors it offers depending on the situation, arrogant or dramatic. Flexible and delicately expressed, the music unfolds in its own flow without overpowering the vocals, and we hear beautiful soloists among the woodwinds and winds (trumpets that so wonderfully accompany Michaela’s air in Act 3). The choirs cannot be compensated for by their stage presence as much by the quality of their musical interventions. The children of the Paris National Opera and the Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine enjoy great and deserved success, because their enthusiasm for singing is irrepressible.

The distribution is nice and balanced. Jael Arquis, with her chubby and round voice, homogeneous over her range, portrays Carmen as dim and disillusioned, complete and inflexible, demanding and seductive with sobriety and sensual without vulgarity, with equal ruthlessness and ruthlessness when it comes to protecting freedom and dignity. His embodiment of the character is powerful, through the song as in the stage presence. With elaborate expression, she indiscriminately brings out her voice in the spoken texts that replace the recitations. Michael Spyer captivates us in Don Jose. First of all, by his clear and sweet voice, his intonations, his timbre of the finest brilliance, his perfect diction, his ease in all registers, and an expressive diffusion showing all the psychological features of his character enslaved by his passions. “The flower that threw me” In a wonderful way and with ample wording, the audience will be delighted. He’s also an excellent actor, and his spoken interventions are remarkably accurate in tone. The two manage to give the final scene a heart-wrenching, dramatic intensity.

Golda Schultz made her debut at the Paris Opera as Michaela. Modest and reserved, her moderation does not prevent her from being gentle, from asserting herself, and even from spitting in Carmen’s face when she wins her a small victory. The singer with a caressing tone, with gently enveloping reflections, is an audience pleaser “I say nothing scares me.” particularly moving. What softness in the voice, what softness in the running of his song so penetrating, what pure high notes, both light and intense!

Lucas Michem is Escamillo with imposing stature, symmetrical, self-assured, in city suit as in shimmering light costume, plus he does nothing more charming than his slick show. He is also more emotionally detached, he does not have the blistering personality that Carmen and Don Jose have. If he is not at his best in vocal form in Act 1, the bass gives the full measure of his song thereafter, his stable voice, with a deep, booming timbre. As for its performance, it remains perfect.

The range of supporting roles is irresistible. They are all excellent, each with their own personality. The vocals are flawless and it matches her well. Soldiers Zuniga (Alejandro Baliñas Vieites) and Moralès (Tomasz Kumięga), smugglers Le Dancaïre (Marc Labonnette) and Remendado (Loïc Félix) make wonderful pairs, as do loveable two Frasquita (Andrea Cueva Molnar) and Mercedes (Adèle Charvet). Actor Karim Belkhadra, who takes on the sometimes spoken, sometimes silent role of Lilas Bastia, concludes with Georges Bizet’s unfinished tragedy.

Image copyright © Guergana Damianova / OnP

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More details

Paris. Bastille Opera. 15-eleventh-2022. Georges Bizet (1838-1875): Carmen, an opera in four acts. Libretto by Henri Melak and Ludovic Halevy. Director: Calixto Beato; Collections: Alphonse Flores. Costumes: Merce Paloma; Spotlights: Alberto Rodriguez Vega; With: Gael Arquez, Carmen; Michael Spiers; Don Jose; Lucas Michem, Escamillo; Golda Schultz, Michaela; Marc Labonnet, Dancaïre; Loic Felix, The Remendado; Alejandro Ballenas Viets, Zúñiga; Thomas Comega, Morales; Andrea Cueva-Molnar, Frasquita; Adele Charvet, Mercedes; Karim Belkhadra, Lilas Bastia. Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Conductor: Ching-Lien Wu), Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine (Director: Gaël Darchen) and Children’s Chorus of the Paris National Opera. Musical direction: Fabian Gable

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