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Image Entertainment presents
"If I love you, beware!"
DVD ReviewCarmen is probably the best-known opera in the repertoire, with a great many familiar melodies. Even those who claim to know nothing of opera will recognize tune after tune while listening to Georges Bizet's masterpiece, based on the story by Prosper Merimee. Thus, it makes an excellent introduction to the opera for novices.
The opera centers on a love triangle between the gypsy worker in a cigarette factory, Carmen (Maria Ewing), soldier Don Jose (Jacque Trussel), and matador Escamillo (Alain Fondary). Don Jose, despite the presence of his girlfriend, Micaela (Miriam Gauci), falls obsessively in love with Carmen, to the point where he is imprisoned for her, and at her demand he renounces the army to join bandits in the hills. Even this is not enough to satisfy her, and she rejects him for the bullfighter Escamillo. Since this is an opera, you know that the situation can only end badly for all concerned.
Carmen is one of the great female characters of the stage, embodying the charm, seductiveness and sensuality of woman as well as the cruelty, capriciousness and downright selfishness that woman is capable of exhibiting. Ewing does an excellent job of conveying all of these qualities on the screen, her body, face and voice united in an excellent performance of the role that's as good as any I've seen. Trussel is almost as good as the desperately smitten Don Jose. The conclusion of Act III, in which Don Jose loses his resolve and reverses himself completely, is always problematic on stage, and Trussel manages to make it plausible, if not convincing.
The main misgiving I have about this disc regards the staging. Director Gavin Taylor presents the opera in the round, with a revolving catwalk around the center stage, designed something like a bullring. This staging is interesting, but it results in some problems on video. First, the camera has to be positioned above the action looking down, in order to keep actors or props from obstructing the view, resulting in a monotonous point of view. Second is the use of the wooden catwalk itself; it creates an enormous amount of highly distracting background noise during the music. For filming, some changes should have been made to accommodate the camera and the microphones. What may have been an excellent live performance feels substandard on disc.
There are a few other oddities afflicting this performance. At the beginning of Act IV, about ten minutes of gratuitous flamenco dancing is added, apparently for those who might feel the opera itself is insufficiently Spanish. I could have done without it, and would have appreciated a "bypass" chapter stop.
There are quite a few Carmens on DVD already, and while these performances rank with the best of them, the unfortunate staging makes this a less-than-highly-recommended choice. The staging issues result in a downgrade of style from A to B. (Although the packaging indicates that it is a 1999 performance, the disc itself states a date of 1989. Most DVD websites are listing it under the 1999 date.)
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The picture is very good overall. Colors are vivid and lifelike throughout, and while the picture is a little soft, there is no annoying edge enhancement. Blacks are very deep but there is no shadow detail to speak of. There seems to be a slightly high degree of contrast here, which downgrades the image a little.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is excellent for the most part. The vocals on both the 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are front-focused, with the orchestra occupying all channels, including the surrounds. During the segments when the chorus is singing on the catwalk, one gets a feeling of being ringed by the sound, which draws one into the action quite nicely. A note at the beginning warns of several audio dropouts which occurred during production, which makes me further question why this particular presentation was selected for disc; however, the dropouts are quite brief and not too annoying, certainly far less irritating than the thundering sound of dozens of feet on a wooden catwalk during an aria. Setting aside these two defects, there is nothing to complain about. The vocals are captured with exquisite sensitivity and excellent bass range (particularly on the 5.1 track). Again, the downgrading is incurred entirely by the staging.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:33m:04s
Extras Review: Aside from optional English subtitles, there are no extras to be seen here. Chaptering is not as comprehensive as it should be for a work of this length; several chapters run in excess of ten minutes each. The layer change is well placed at an act break.
Why, when multiple vocalists sing different parts in ensemble, can't opera DVD presentations place the appropriate subtitles directly underneath each singer, as Universal does for its films? Instead, we get one approach or the other, occasionally both, with no indication as to who is singing which lyric. Grrrr.....
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsSome excellent lead performances are spoiled to some degree by unfortunate, noisy staging decisions. The disc features an attractive video transfer, but the lack of extras makes this disc an acceptable but not outstanding value.
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