Bizet’s Carmen was filled with soaring songs, unbridled love and a man betrayed
THAT night on Jan 28 at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) in Kuala Lumpur felt like, from its onset, an evening already on the edge of calamity. The air was still, the populace went about their apportioned affairs but there was a sense of an impending end. Of course, it began, as any night would, unassumingly, filled with hope, joy, merrymaking and sinful rendezvous.
Dark, red roses were strewn across the floor in a display of passion. Nightlight candles lit the square like teardrops on a virgin’s face. It was set then ... the grand entrance for that mistress of love, the sultry creature of the night.
Echoes of “We don’t see La Carmencita!” clamoured in the streets from amongst the young men pining for her beauty.
And then, with an air of blithe disregard and utter indifference, Carmen, the gypsy seductress, sauntered in. Her dress was as black as the night, with a single rose crowning that seat between her bosoms.
“Love is a gypsy child, he has never heard of law. If you don’t love me, I’ll love you; if I love you, look out for yourself!” she sang with a tantalising lilt in her voice.
And for the rest of the evening, a whole three-hours, the audience at DFP were stirred and mesmerised, just like her lover Don Jose, with Carmen’s soaring voice.
Helmed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s (MPO) new principal Brazilian-born conductor Fabio Mechetti, the three-weekend Carmen festival at DFP closed yesterday with its grand finale offering of the renowned French opera.
The festival began with a ballet performance, followed by a family concert and finally the opera itself, which was performed on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Composed by French composer Georges Bizet in 1875, Carmen tells the love story of Carmen and Don Jose, a soldier. The gypsy, however, betrays him for the love of another man, the bullfighter Escamillo. Hot with fury and jealousy, Don Jose stabs the love of his life.
Leading this abridged version of one the top operas of the world is Dublin-born Patricia Bardon. The Irish mezzo-soprano, whose repertoire includes works by Monteverdi, Handel, Glück, Rossini and Verdi, proved from the very beginning that she is a force to be reckoned with.
To begin with, her commanding register did not allow anyone to escape into the land of their imaginations. Her lyrical and dramatic colouring transported the audience through Carmen’s ups and downs and passions vis-a-vis her love affairs.
More than that, Bardon, who had played the titular role many times before, was a skilful elocutionist. Her phrasing was precise, evocative and potent, so much so that albeit this writer not being a French speaker, he was able to grasp the words and take in the intentions behind the words.
Bardon was also playful in her modulation, lending the right degree of devil-may-care demeanour to her character. Of course, the opera requires its main character to do just that. But Bardon stripped it of its technicality and the rise and fall of her voice was natural and even cheeky.
This was particularly evident in the famous Habanera. One would just forget for that moment all vows to love and be incited to the threshold of frolicking. After all, the Habanera is a song about wild and untamed love. And all credit goes to Bardon for her deep musicality and ability to conjure the merriment of the song.
Playing the love-struck Don Jose is American tenor James Valenti. His towering presence and deep register was magnetic and Valenti simply exuded the Herculean charisma inherent in his character. More than that, the subtle inflections in his voice was endearing and one cannot help but pine or feel betrayed with him.
If Bardon and Valenti were the heartbeat of the opera, the Dithyrambic Singers, who formed Carmen’s chorus line, were the blood that pumped the heart. Their virtuoso performance infused the opera with zest and vivacity, keeping the audience tuned in.
At the end of the three-hour performance, after Don Jose murders his beloved, the premonition present in the beginning, of a looming doom, came to be. Why should a woman die for her choice of a lover? Why must passion curdle to impetuous rage, driving a man to murder?
One may not have understood the words but one would almost definitely have the left the hall with such questions lingering in their minds. And perhaps, that’s what makes Carmen one of the best operas in the world.