Passionate Carmen in Orange, July 11th, 2015

Long awaited trip to Orange to see theatre itself and especially the performance of “Carmen” by Bizet, notably starring Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose. The opera has 4 acts, and as usual, it has been performed in two parts. The libretto is based on the story of Prosper Mérimée.

The production team and the cast for July 11th, 2015 performance:

Music Director:  Mikko Franck
Staging, scenery, costumes: Louis Désiré
Lighting: Patrick Méeüs

Carmen: Kate Aldrich
Don José: Jonas Kaufmann

Micaëla: Inva Mula
Frasquita: Hélène Guilmette
Mercédès: Marie Karall
Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen
Zuniga: Jean Teitgen
Orchestra: Philharmonique de Radio France
Chorus: Opéra d’Angers-Nantes, Grand Avignon, Nice.

Impressions from performance are a bit controversial as I was overwhelmed by opportunity to see and listen to Jonas as Don Jose live for the first time, have been following closely rehearsal process through Facebook group stream, and had built some high expectation to the production even long before arriving in Orange. The stage was a bit disappointing – throughout performance it seemed a bit static and too dark, at least from the heights of row  43, at the same time I was expecting more dynamism and activity from the cast which did not materialise. Unfortunately static props as chairs and spears where intensively used in various contexts, but did not add any traction to the storyline. When back home I took another look on, and it was clear that staging was done with TV in mind, and it is certainly good excuse as the performance was broadcast and recorded intensively.

The cast was unbalanced in my  view, as Jonas Kaufmann as superstar was stealing the show. When thinking about typical interpretation of the role, I have seen various interpretations of Don Jose, and in most cases I have perceived the character as non convincing. Jonas interpretation brings completely new angle – it is the man with his own secret and deeply burning passion turning into obsession, he has fragile powerlessness and determination to pay for his own choices. Destiny dominates the will, and Jonas delivered all those angles beyond any doubt.

Kate Aldrich was new discovery for me in mezzo range, her sumptuous low register has richness and tenderness, and carries a lot of dark passion which was well demonstrated in the final scene. I would love to see Kate in some another role, for example as Dalila..

Regardless of some bravos from the audience I was disappointed in Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo, especially at his first appearance in Act 2. Good performance from Inva Mula as Micaëla, even if her vocal performance was impeccable, the dramatic side of the acting did not make me believe in her completely.Jean Teitgen was good choice for Zuniga. 
In overall, the performance has great qualities in details and close-ups when viewed recorded, and this is what I have done twice since my return back home.

Lessons learned from my first visit to Orange: take care when choosing your ticket. Seating in sector J is very high up, and in order to see the scene you need a pair of good binoculars. Also, if mistral starts to blow, sound might become elusive, and thus the overall impression is disturbed. Nevertheless, in extremely hot weather conditions as we experienced, when temperature is at 30C at 21:45, sitting higher up is more pleasant than in more expensive and hot seats til row 37. It is important to take your own cushions, as there is no option available to rent them as in Verona, the cheapest and ugly pieces cost 10 EUR a piece.

I recommend to find nice small place for pre-performance dinner as main restaurants in immediate vicinity are badly crowded and service is very slow and arrogant, we did not get our espresso even after a few reminders. If your hotel is on village’s outer part, next to highway exit, you can use option for mini-train which comes every 30 minutes and takes 7 EUR for a 5 minute ride, or have a nice walk of 2 km. Important is to plan your trip well in advance, and next time I will be certainly much smarter in making my arrangements both for performance seating and accommodation.  If you have not been in Orange, this is place worth to visit both for your historically cultural, educational and musical experiences!

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