[Met Performance] CID:287430

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 12, 1987

Debut : Maria Benitez

Carmen (805)
Georges Bizet | Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halévy
Agnes Baltsa

Don José
José Carreras

Leona Mitchell

Samuel Ramey

Myra Merritt

Diane Kesling

Anthony Laciura

Bruce Hubbard

Ara Berberian

Vernon Hartman

Lillas Pastia
Nico Castel

Charles Duval

James Levine

Peter Hall

John Bury

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Elizabeth Keen

Maria Benitez [Debut]

Stage Director
Paul Mills

Carmen received eleven performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Peter Goodman in Newsday

For 'Carmen' a Fiery Return to the Met

Carmen returned to the Metropolitan Opera Thursday night, and this time she was a genuine firebrand.

Mezzo-soprano Agnes Baltsa sang Bizet's Spanish gypsy for the first time at the Met, with an electric vocal and physical presence that really woke up that sleepy Seville plaza. Her two lovers, Don José and Escamillo, were also embodied by, singers new to the roles at the Met - tenor José Carreras and bass Samuel Ramey - and among the three of them they revitalized a production that had been terribly weak when it first opened, with a different cast, last spring.

Baltsa does not have a deep, sultry, conventionally sexy voice; her sound is bright, somewhat wiry and very penetrating. She used it Thursday like a whip, lithe and flexible, alternately cutting and caressing. Her entrance was dramatic and effective: She ran across an upstage parapet, hissing down at the crowd, then darted out from stage left like a tigress.

The townspeople, soldiers and audience reacted as if a dangerous animal had indeed erupted into their midst: They gave her full, wary, fascinated attention. Baltsa's Carmen was not conventionally feminine. Taut, vibrating in every inch of body and voice, she challenged Don José, or anyone, to stand unmoved before her. She resembled Julia Migenes-Johnson in movement, but her voice was much more powerful.

Carreras' Don José began poorly; he almost ran out of voice before the end of Act I. But as the evening and the drama continued, he warmed and loosened up, becoming increasingly passionate and desperate. It served the dramatic purpose of the opera: At first, José is restrained, afraid to give way to his own desire and temper; at the last, he has lost all control and at the same time risen to heights of power.

But Ramey's Escamillo was clearly the only match for Carmen. His vibrant, resonant, responsive voice and lithe, strong presence made a man who is a star and knows it. No wonder Carmen wants him

Leona Mitchell's Micaela was also a strong performance. Mitchell's voice is heavier and more dramatic than usual for the sweet little country girl; her Micaela was a woman, not a child.

The Met's production was originally staged by Sir Peter Hall, with massive, heavy sets designed by John Bury. Paul Mills restaged it extensively, primarily to give Baltsa room to maneuver and to eliminate a lot of extraneous detail. Maria Benitez choreographed the dances at Lillas Pastia's inn during Act II, making them more balletic, less folkloric and more attractive.

With James Levine in the pit, the whole show sang with energy like a steel cable under tension. The music bounced and surged, and the orchestra played at what is now an ordinary peak of perfection. It's fashionable to complain these days about the low state to which opera has fallen, but, as far as the orchestra goes, these are the good old days.

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