[Met Performance] CID:231000

Opening Night {88}, New Production, General Manager: Goeran Gentele, General Manager (Acting General Manager): Schuyler G. Chapin

Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, September 19, 1972

Debut : Göran Gentele, Josef Svoboda, David Walker

Carmen (686)
Georges Bizet | Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halévy
Marilyn Horne

Don José
James McCracken

Adriana Maliponte

Tom Krause

Colette Boky

Marcia Baldwin

Andrea Velis

Russell Christopher

Donald Gramm

Raymond Gibbs

Lillas Pastia
Paul Franke

Leonard Bernstein

Göran Gentele [Debut]

Set Designer
Josef Svoboda [Debut]

Costume Designer
David Walker [Debut]

Alvin Ailey

Stage Director
Bodo Igesz

Carmen received twenty-one performances this season.
Göran Gentele, was announced on 12/9/1970 as General Manager to succeed Rudolf Bing beginning with the 1972-73 season. He was killed in an automobile accident on 7/18/1972. He was succeed by Schuyler G. Chapin, his Assistant Manager.
Gentele's concept for this staging of Carmen was realized by Bodo Igesz, who based the production on Gentele's notes, on discussions he had had with him and with others who had been associated with Gentele and the project from its inception.

Production a gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa

Review 1:

Review of Robert J. Landry in Variety

Beaucoup French Added To 'Carmen' At Met: Jose a Still and Stupid Spaniard

The personal conductorial pit dramatics (and/or calisthenics) of Leonard Bernstein distracted audience attention from the stage when the 88th season at the Met Opera opened (19) with a new production of "Carmen." At the very outset the bass drum sounded like the "1812" overture. Thereafter the tempo was sometimes sluggish, sometimes intense and often seemed more a reflection of the conductor than the composer. In the second act the terpsichorean passage suggested a sword as much as Spanish dancing. But at other times Bernstein cooled his over-participatory starring with the stars and managed the proper role of an opera conductor, which is accompaniment.

Presumably subsequent repertory performances of this latest "Carmen" will be more "all of one piece" than was the first. Fatigue and nerves are to be suspected, tangled perhaps with traces of over-confidence. There was, too, the slight pall of "dedicating" the staging to the ill-fated general manager from Sweden, Goran Gentele, who was killed on Sardinia only 18 days after succeeding Sir Rudolf Bing. Met board chairman Lowell Wadmond came before the curtain just after "The Star-Spangled. Banner" was played, As usual he was dignified and graceful in his speaking style though theatrical experience teaches that it is frequently dangerous to over-tout what an audience is about to see, and Wadmond over-touted this third coming of Bizet in 15 years.

With the present staging attributed so completely to the dead Gentele it had to diminish the credit of the living director, Bodo Igesz, catapulted from the Met staff to this opportunity by the present acting general manager, Schuyler Chapin, himself catapulted by that same motor car accident. Rather gaunt pictorially, the Josef Svoboda scenery and David Walker costumes (paid for by the Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, a prairie friend of the Met) serve satisfactorily, though with scant excitement, The tavern is curiously like a modern singles bar, and about as crowded. The choreography of Alvin Ailey is bare-footed, petti-coated, whore-like and partly designed (obviously) to cover up the fact that Marilyn Horne is a Carmen who does not (and should not) dance.

As a starring vehicle for Miss Horne the present production leaves the old rose-in-teeth role with the derriere stuff to memory alone. She manages very well for so large a woman, though it is to be wondered what happens on stage when other divas step into the present interpretation. Miss Horne injects a few tricks, some rather sly character humor of a kind not heretofore employed at the Met. The audience liked her, though Adriana Maliponte as Micaela almost matched her in impact.

James McCracken, a tenor who is a giant, was vocally fine, whatever reservations may be expressed about his acting, though the role as now staged makes the always-stiff Don Jose even more so. "Interior seething" seldom comes across effectively on any stage. Talk that Gentele's return to the original Paris Comique libretto (1875) illuminates the character of Don Jose seems pretentious since this guy is a stupid loser and certain killer. To argue that "Carmen" is really his story is to argue that "Cleopatra" is the story of the asp. All Don Jose is usually, and made more evident this time, is an inconvenient discard of a promiscuous gypsy.

The Gentele-Igesz production was barely in any hazard of not being better than the hopelessly hokey "intervening" version (intervening after the Rise Stevens era) which Jean-Louis Barrault staged to the embarrassment of his patron, Bing (Now retired, Bing is a $35,000 a-year lecturer on opera at Brooklyn College for his patron, Mayor John V. Lindsay.)

Certain of the stage details are interesting, notably the placement on a roof of the boys who mimic the guards mastered directly below. The girls spilling from the cigarette factory release billows of smoke. The hired horse for the commander has been retired - or is that in the N.Y. City Opera "Carmen"? There has been a lot of program annotation provide by the Met which suggests what the eye should look for, like the scorching sun of Seville and the craggy remoteness of the mountain setting, created by stereopticon effect. There seemed a gap between the intentions and the facts.

The legend around town is that Bing had scheduled "Tannhäuser" to open the 1972-73 season and had committed the Met to premiere dates therein for Miss Horne, a recent favorite, James McCracken, a neglected stalwart, and Tom Krause, who had contract claims. Gentele rescued himself from that invitation to empty seats (at $50 top) by deciding to re-do "Carmen." It made sense. All three principals are plausible, if unusual for the Bizet warhorse. (Krause is okay as Escamillo, though the ideal toreador he is not vocally.)

On the whole the critical notices exceeded the opening night audience response, though there were big moments. As suggested, later performances of this "Carmen" should be better, though all that resurrected spoken French spoken dialogue slows things down without making Don Jose less a stupid Spaniard.

Review 2:

Review of Byron Belt in the Jersey City Journal


The Metropolitan Opera launched its new season with Bizet's "Carmen" in a production conceived by the late Goeran Gentele, whose promising general managership was cut short so tragically in July. The new mounting pays honorable tribute to the man who was to direct it. This "Carmen" reflected the Met at its innovative and well-rehearsed best. The orchestra performed magnificently under Leonard Bernstein, and the adult and children's choirs have seldom sung with such pride and power.

The stark physical designs of Josef Svoboda worked superbly in the first two acts, and fitfully in the last two. The somber costumes by David Walker reflected an authentic Spain, but not a very colorful or theatrical one. Svoboda's lighting captured the blinding white sun of Seville, and the poetry and melodrama of the direction.

Faced with an impossibly difficult task of following through what seemed feasible and clearly indicated by Mr. Gentele and still performing an honest artistic task on his own, Bodo Igesz survived the challenge, and in the first act, at least, triumphed most handsomely. There was intimacy and sweep in that opening scene that never quite survived the leisurely pace of Bernstein's thoughtful but too careful and lumbering musical conception.

Intermission chatter seemed clearly centered on the star of the night, mezzo Marilyn Horne. Barring one inexcusably vulgar chesty outburst that marred the most haunting Habanera imaginable, Miss Horne's Carmen was a remarkable achievement.

A wise decision was made to avoid dancing and the usual sexy cliches associated with the Gypsy girl, and Miss Horne was both playful and fear-ridden - a rich dramatic mixture that was reflected in some of the most intelligent and honestly expressive singing of her career. I hope the house collapsed at her feet after the final curtain - she deserves every praise!

The only performance to match that of Carmen herself was the superb Zuniga of Donald Gramm. Vocally and dramatically he was impeccable - the rarest of artists, as ever. The other three principals were all disappointing to one degree or another. The substitution of Teresa Stratas by Adriana Maliponte was difficult to understand, when other artists could have brought more appropriate vocal style to the role of Micaela. Miss Maliponte was a forceful young woman, whom one could imagine out alone in a cave late at night, but her voice is too heavy and was too badly used last evening to convey what Bizet had in mind. Her friendly claque was out in cheering force.

James McCracken's Don Jose was a confusing character, which must not be blamed on the singer. He was so one-sided - morose - that it was not possible to understand why Carmen would bother with him at all. Since the tenor cannot negotiate the quiet, higher passages of the opening act duet or the Flower Song, he resorted to a mezza voice completely inappropriate.

Escamillo was sung with great care and taste by Tom Krause, but those are exactly the qualities designed to turn the spectacular Toreador Song into a damp rag, and with Bernstein's lugubrious tempo, it was a miracle that Krause got through it at all. He looked well, and moved expertly, but it wasn't very exciting. On down the cast there was a shill-voiced Frasquita by Colette Boky, a warm Mercedes by Marcia Baldwin, and satisfactory character signing by Andrea Velis, Russell Christopher and Paul Franke.

Musically there is much to enjoy, but other than Miss Horne, Mr. Gramm and the chorus, one could hardly look forward to the projected recording with enthusiasm. Where "Carmen" succeeded best was in a production that had vitality and a considerable smell of the earth - a realism within stylization that is part of the magic of good lyric theatre.

Notes on the edition of "Carmen" by David Hamilton in the Financial Times

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