[Met Performance] CID:255510
Carmen {753} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/7/1978.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
November 7, 1978


CARMEN {753}

Carmen..................Nedda Casei
Don José................Guy Chauvet
Micaela.................Leona Mitchell
Escamillo...............James Morris
Frasquita...............Alma Jean Smith
Mercédès................Shirley Love
Remendado...............Andrea Velis
Dancaïre................Russell Christopher
Zuniga..................Mario Bertolino
Moralès.................Gene Boucher

Conductor...............Giuseppe Patanè

Review of Jack Hiemenz in the News World

"Boo" rang out like a clap of thunder, full-throated, resonant, and shocking! For a moment there was stunned silence, then the audience, outraged, shot back vehement applause and a few bravos. The subject of, this exchange was Nedda Casei, who, as the replacement for Elena Obraztsova, had just completed her first scene as Carmen in the Metropolitan Opera's seasonal [first] night performance of that opera. I wonder about that boo. It was louder and more refulgent than any note any of the singers had uttered from the stage. Had Ezio Pinza arisen from the dead to voice his disapproval of Casei's singing? Or were we being conned?

Back in the late 1950's when Leonie Rysanek stepped in for Maria Callas for the [first] night of the new production of "Macbeth," the then general manager of the Met, Rudolf Bing, according to his memoirs, planted someone in the audience to cry out "Brava Callas" and thereby insure sympathy and support for Rysanek. Was the boo for Casei similarly engineered? We'll probably never know.

It would be no surprise if someone did think Casei would need all the help she could get. Here she was, a singer whose career had plateaued, a standby paid by the Met to wait in the wings night after night and be prepared to take over in an emergency. And she was to step in for Obraztsova, a mysterious Russian and the Met's newest mezzo sensation, in the title role of Carmen, no less. When as the performance began I opened the program and saw the inserted slip of paper announcing the change in cast, my own heart sank. For I had heard reports of Casei's disastrous last minute substitution, in "La Favorite" last spring.

This time Casei was no disaster. She was simply splendid. It's been a long time since the Met gave us a sexually exciting Carmen, one who repels you and arouses you at the same time, one who makes you desire her even as she infuriates you. She has the sounds, she has the movements, and above all she has the emanations. She is provocative without being coarse; hers is a sinuous, evocative sensuality. It's in her dancing, in her movements, in her body, and in her voice. Never mind that the voice at times is a little spread or has a touch too much vibrato on top. Never mind that it is not as large, assertive, or commanding as those of some Carmens of recent memory. What counts is the way she colors it and what she exudes through it. Her palette of colors is very subtle and very great, ranging from sultry chest tones, to dusky sounds in the middle - to intimate little moans. How many singers have you heard color their voices at all?

Intimacy is key

Intimacy is a key word here. So much so that I can't help wondering how much of her performance got lost in the upper reaches of the house What surely didn't get lost though was her musicality. One might have expected that all those coloristic nuances would have bogged her phrasing down in a swamp of disconnected musical bits and pieces. Not a bit of it. There wasn't a hint of choppiness; the details were borne forward on a fine-spun legato flow.

Her tenor, Guy Chauvet, is a problematical singer. He is sometimes choppy, both musically, in the recitatives which were reinstated into the production this season, and physically, on stage. Sometimes he went flat, as in the capella dragoon song. And his tone sputtered and faded when he attempted some of the softer dynamics. But some of his high notes had a fine pharyngeal ring, with plenty of guts and core. He even interpolated a high C at the end of the last ensemble in Act II.

In Escamillo James Morris has at last found a part suitable for his voice and personality. As Giorgio in "I puritani he seemed uncompassionate and insensitive. While his Don Giovanni is hardly less misguided and inappropriate. As Escamillo he was now cool and cocksure; now he nonchalantly strutted about. He seemed to the manner born.

Leona Mitchell sang a really big impressive high B in her Act III aria. And she also deployed her chest voice from time to time. Hers is a more mature-sounding and therefore less appropriate Micaela than one sometimes encounters. Sung that way her character contrasts less with that of Carmen. But there is nothing wrong with the voice as such. Mario Bertolini was a Zuniga with a slight case of the wobbles.

Giuseppe Patane, like his father before him, is one of the best opera conductors. He obtrudes his personality less than some but has more fire and personalty than most. He led a taut performance - maybe at times a little too taut. For my taste some of the tempi were a metronome notch or notch and a half too fast. As always with him the instrumental introductions were brilliant. Given the dearth of good opera conductors and the less-than-satisfactory rehearsal conditions at the Met we are lucky to have him.

For the first time in my life I got the giggles at the opera. It was the second act set that did it. Festooned with pretty little colored lights - the first thing that popped into my head was "It's getting to be that time of year" - it was like childhood dream of a universe of Christmas trees. I suppose someone somehow seriously meant for us to take it for the tavern of Lillas Pasta. That I was not alone in the giggles maybe saved me from utterly disgracing myself.



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