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Bizet;Georges Carmen

Marco Berti , Marco Camastra , Franco Zeffirelli    NR (Not Rated)   DVD

Price: CDN$ 74.34
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dramatically Riveting World-Class Production of 'Carmen' Sept. 13 2004
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This 2 DVD set was made at a July 2003 Verona Arena performance of 'Carmen' staged by Franco Zeffirelli starring mostly young, attractive, not-well-known singers in an overtly video-friendly production. Lots of close-ups, lots of camera movement, lots of excitement onstage both from the expert video direction by George Blume and from Zeffirelli's always animated direction. Costumes and scenery are lavish and even in close-up look almost real. It's a fairly traditional production with a few unique touches. And at least one anachronism: when Zuñiga, at the end of Act II, is bound and blindfolded by the gypsies, one of the women lights a cigarette for him and it's a filter-tip!

Musical direction is by the veteran French conductor, Alain Lombard. He makes a few odd choices of tempi (as in the entr'acte between Acts I & II) but overall this is a neatly shaped performance, a little on the fast side but which slows down to allow for the overt eroticism of the performances of both Carmen (Russian mezzo Marina Domashenko, a movie-star beautiful woman in her late 20s) and the swaggering Escamillo (American bass-baritone, Raymond Aceto, a hunk and the possessor of the best French accent in the cast). Domashenko has a lushly beautiful and very well-managed voice with just enough edge to give her Carmen more than a touch of menace. Aceto has an attractive voice, and his acting is quite good, but he sometimes, particularly during his entrance aria, sings just a hair behind the beat. The earnest Don José is sung by Italian tenor Marco Berti, who has the vocal heft and squillo for this demanding role but can sing tenderly, as in his scenes with Micaëla. (He does, however, like most tenors these days, sing the final upward scale of the Flower Song with a crescendo, ignoring Bizet's careful instruction to end it softly.) During the finale of Act III and the confrontation outside the corrida in Act IV he sings with dramatic fire and the voice rings out heroically. Micaëla is sung by Russian soprano Maya Dashuk, another stunningly beautiful young woman with a purely produced lyrical sound. She has a larger voice than most Micaëlas of my experience, and consequently during her aria in Act III, 'Je dis, que rien ne m'épouvante,' and the duet that follows, she comes across as not just some simple country girl, but a young woman with more spunk than is generally given the character. I frankly rather liked that; I always recall Beverly Sills once saying in a broadcast interview that Micaëla is the second-most passive soprano role in the repertoire (Elsa, in 'Lohengrin,' taking the prize in that category), but she doesn't seem so passive here, and after all she did climb those mountains to find Don José in the smugglers' lair and bring him home to his dying mother. This Micaëla is not simply a cipher with two lovely bits to sing.

The secondary roles are mostly well-taken. Dancaïro (Marco Camastra) and Remendado (Antonio Feltracco) have distinctive voices and play well off each other. Frasquita (Cristina Pastorello) and Mercédès (Milena Josipovic) more than hold their own with Carmen in the Card Trio in Act III. The only weak singer among the cast is the fellow who sang Zuñiga. I was glad that he passed from the scene at the end of Act II, filter-tip and all.

In summary, then, this is a very attractive performance with world-class production values, believable singing actors, almost all with excellent voices. It does not compare directly with Zeffirelli's and Francesco Rosi's 1984 film of the opera with Plácido Domingo and Julia Migenes in the starring roles; that production was 'opened up' and conveys much more of the story's 'blood and sand' than is possible in a staged production. The film replaces the familiar Guiraud recitatives with the original spoken French dialog; the recitatives are mostly retained in the present production. I have not seen any of the other DVDs of 'Carmen' that are available and thus cannot make any comparisons with them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD, found the drama to be riveting and the musical presentation on a par with any I've ever encountered. Recommended.

TT=150 mins, 2 DVDs

Scott Morrison
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Grand Opera Taken To the Extreme May 2 2005
By Bernal Jimenez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Dozens of people sharing the stage with horses and donkeys. If you like big shows with lots of extras and distracting (and loud) unnecessary business, this DVD is for you. Grand opera calls for spectacle, yes, but there are moments when everyone should exit the stage and leave the principals alone. There is, after all, a story to tell. I have actually enjoyed other Zeffirelli circus-like productions in the past for what they are, but this time he's outdone his gaudy self.
Marina Domashenko as Carmen is the best of the performers. Her French is a bit blurry but her singing is of the highest order and her voice is a true mezzo with a pleasant color. I enjoyed her acting the most. She is a very attractive woman, which helps, but most importantly she knows how to use her body and, in particular, her eyes. I would go as far as saying her acting might make this the most accomplished and consistent rendition of this role on video - closely matched by Von Otter on her Carmen DVD. To complement the madonna/loose woman dichotomy (amazon doesn't allow the "w" word) we have the Micaela of Maya Dashuk, angelic in looks but sadly not in sound. Unsteady timbre and a highly acidic quality in her voice that at times borders on shrieking mar her performance. I know it is very wrong to even bring this up, but I couldn't help thinking Marco Berti as Don Jose was probably cast last-minute to replace the strapping bare-chested youth Zeffirelli had in mind. He just doesn't physically fit the mold of principals cast in recent Zeffirelli productions. That said, he sings adequately. On video, up close, it is very distracting to see him constantly look at the conductor in the middle of a passionate moment. All opera performers have to learn to negotiate this necessary task with their acting - Berti does not seem to even try. Escamillo and the rest of the performers are ok, nothing in particular makes them stand out either way except for the horribly hollow-voiced Zuniga of Dario Berini.
The musical direction under Alain Lombard is beyond reproach. The video direction is actually pretty successful considering there is so much going on all of the time that it must have been quite a task to edit this release and decide what to show at any given moment. The sound is quite good although sometimes there is a drop in the volume of the voices (particularly noticeable during Escamillo's entrance). Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, and Italian. Even though they put this out on two discs there are no extras at all. For a more inspired (and better choreographed) production, check out the Von Otter DVD from Glyndebourne. A more manageable grand opera take is to be found in the Met DVD featuring Baltsa and Carreras. I wouldn't discard the Ewing releases either - the Covent Garden Mehta with Lima and Vaduva being the most recommendable of the two. Any of the Carmens just mentioned will probably be more satisfactory than this Verona 2003 release.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carmen Rocks.Michaela Hot! July 30 2005
By maiden pa. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I own two other Carmen operas. The one filmed by Zefferelli that is a movie,which has Domingo is really a 5 star Carmen. This one was stage filmed by Zefferelli and is just as good. Carmen is sassy and better costumed than the other one. Michaela is beautiful and I can't really believe gets dumped for Carmen,however that is how the story goes. French with English subtitles. Great audio. Great dancing and costuming. Worth the purchase indeed. 5 stars easy. I also bought this after I read the J Scott Morrison review. He has fine taste in opera.Don't forget to also purchase the Carmen with Domingo. You won't get tired of several Carmens and they both stand as 5 stars each.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cast of thousands, but a terrific show Dec 11 2009
By Tone deaf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Certainly the best Carmen I have seen, other than the Domingo film (I've not seen the van Otter performance). The highlights are of course the performances of the soprano leads Domashenko and Dashuk; both of them get their roles dead right, even if the former is a little unsubtle - but somehow I don't think Carmen was a lady of nuances. One simply has to remark on their beauty - they are really stunning to look at. I watched a Turandot a few nights ago (another Zeffirelli production) that was ruined as a spectacle because the princess was played by a lady who was the size of a hospitality tent (and wasn't a great singer either). Strangely, in this production, it's the male leads who raise an eyebrow; they are middle-aged, overweight and visually unconvincing, and this does diminish credibility, given Zeffirelli's emphasis on the "look" of a production; it's difficult to see how Jose and Escamillo could, in modern parlance, "pull" women like that! OK, maybe the latter's fame is a factor. As for the singing, the sopranos excelled, Berti was fine, Acelo middling, and one or two of the supporting singers pretty dodgy. Conductor and orchestra were good.

As another reviewer remarked, it is not difficult to believe that every family in Verona was represented on the massive stage, plus quite a few tourists. There were more horses on stage than run in the Grand National, and I think I saw my dog, which had been let out to take itself for a walk, in one of the scenes. No elephants though. And yes the constant searching of the male singers for the conductor's cue was irritating, but with so many people on stage, it's a mercy they didn't have to jump up in the air to get the beat.

But these are cavils. I really enjoyed the performance, more as a show than as grand opera. I think my dog did too as he came back very late.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Carmen DVD on the market ?? Nov. 19 2009
By Colston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Superb DVD. Superb performance. Easily 5 stars. Better than Zefferelli's other accomplishment with Migenes and Domingo. Better than the Glyndebourne version. Well balanced in sound, lighting, color, acting and singing. Most DVDs on opera are notoriously dark, especially night scenes. This one is unusually bright, except for Act 3. The color is absolutely fantastic. The audio is better than most opera DVDs. I bought this DVD because of the positive comments of two of the reviewers. I share and appreciate their enthusiasm.

Micaela is stunningly beautiful, with a voice to match. How can Don Jose, or any red-blooded Spaniard, not fall for her? Besides, she is mama's choice. But that was before Carmen did her erotic dance. Carmen's seductive facial expression and singing when she wanted something from Mr. Joe is worth the price of the DVD.

There are glitches in the reproduction, about a second each. These are easily forgiven.
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