[Met Performance] CID:212880

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, December 15, 1967

Debut : Lele De Triana

Carmen (606)
Georges Bizet | Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halévy
Grace Bumbry

Don José
Nicolai Gedda

Jeannette Pilou

Justino Díaz

Lilian Sukis

Marcia Baldwin

Charles Anthony

Gene Boucher

Morley Meredith

Ron Bottcher

Zubin Mehta

Jean-Louis Barrault

Jacques Dupont

Lighting Designer
Jean Rosenthal

Lele De Triana [Debut]

Carmen received thirty-five performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Review 1:

Review of Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker

Carmen Wronged

It has become a habit of the Bing administration at the Metropolitan Opera - exaggerated since the move into the new house - to import a famous director from the European theatrical world and have this famous director fall on his face by producing a travesty. Such was the case with Jean-Louis Barrault at last Friday night's new production of "Carmen." I shall dismiss as unlikely the idea that he was deliberately poking fun at a great masterpiece, perhaps the greatest in all French music. But his production often gave that impression. No doubt Mr. Barrault is an expert in his own métier, but it is obvious that he does not understand opera. Altogether, what was set before Friday night's audience was the worst staging of Bizet's chef-d'oeuvre that I have ever seen, and I am not forgetting the productions at the New York Hippodrome under Alfredo Salmaggi which were always at least decent. Mr. Barrault's first act suggested a music hall rather than an opera house. It began with an obtrusive and quite objectionable ballet, which included not only the people dressed as dancers but the military, who pirouetted about like a group of chorus boys in a performance of "The Chocolate Soldier." The children's chorus - usually one of the most charming touches of this act - was apparently felt to be incomplete without a female ballet dancer prancing in front of it. (The whole idea of the children's chorus is to present a note of innocence, after which the grim erotic drama is played out.) Then the refugees came out of the cigarette factory, fleeing from Carmen and her knife. But they were not fleeing; they were kicking their heels high in the air, as if they were celebrating the Queen of the May. Finally, Carmen's victim, the stabbed girl, was carried gracefully out and deposited on the floor, where she lay in a sort of sensuous languor, to be picked up again, just as gracefully and languorously, and carried off the stage. At this point, many in the audience broke into unrestrained laughter, which seemed the appropriate reaction. Meanwhile Micaela had made her entrance, not as the shy country girl she is supposed to be but as a coquettish young thing, eager to flirt with any soldier. Hardly a character could move onstage without a group of ballet dancers moving behind him and mocking his actions. The other acts were not quite as offensive, but they had their moments - a sort of soft-shoe routine done by the principal gypsies in Act II, and so on and on. Never did Mr. Barrault do anything to intensify the drama. He even had his Carmen making superfluous, self-conscious gestures. The final act was done without tension, and the stabbing was done as if Carmen and José were accepting a mutual invitation to dance.

The costumes were realistic, but the set before which all this took place was symbolic. It resembled the audience part of a Roman arena - a stepped construction of gray stone in semicircular shape. The dubious distinction of creating it goes to somebody named Jacques Dupont. For the first act, it was ridiculous; for the second, awkward. In Act III, it gave the uncomfortable impression that the dramatis personae were acting out their roles in a hollow in the middle of a gigantic Swiss cheese. It is disheartening to contemplate the fact that the Met will probably be stuck with this conception of "Carmen" for the next decade. It will be a drag, on any future Carmen's performance. Mr. Dupont's intention, I gather, was to present the whole opera in a surrounding symbolic of a bull ring - an idea that was both pretentious and naïve. If any opera calls for realism - real people, places, and emotions - it is "Carmen." I hope that somebody will visit Bizet's grave to see whether the ground has been disturbed from below.

There was, of course, some music and singing, too. Zubin Mehta conducted nervously, as if he were angry with what was going on. The Carmen was Grace Bumbry, and I must say that she is without question one of the fine ones. She is pretty. She has a voice of great scope, beautifully produced and shining with the gloss of youth. Her musical style is faultless, and she showed herself to be a good actress in spite of the direction she had. Jeannette Pilou was the Micaela - pleasant in sound except when she forced high notes and caused them to spread, something wholly unnecessary in Micaela's role, which is not a difficult or showy one. Nicolai Gedda did a good deal of barking and seemed overly preoccupied with details in his "Flower Song," but elsewhere he sang and acted well enough. Justino Diaz made a very good Escamillo, Morley Meredith was an outstanding Zuniga, and Ron Boucher an excellent Morales. The lesser roles, too - those done by Lilian Sukis, Marcia Baldwin, Gene Boucher, and Charles Anthony - were given their full due. Good artists always strive to do their best, even in the most unhappy circumstances. Despite their efforts, this "Carmen" was listless, epicene, silly, and without dramatic impulse. Even the score suffered, because everything Mr. Barrault presented onstage was at odds with the music. The Metropolitan Opera is an institution with a proud record. This record hit a new low on Friday night.

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