I’m not sure 3-D visuals are absolutely necessary to tell the tragic tale of “Carmen.” But if the gimmick helps make one of opera’s most iconic heroines as popular among movie audiences as she has been among opera fans for well over a century, I can’t complain. The amoral Gypsy is a natural for the big screen, and I find her a far more fascinating seductress than any played by Sharon Stone or Glenn Close.
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“Carmen in 3D” is not as visually sumptuous as Francesco Rosi’s 1984 “Carmen,” another film based on Georges Bizet’s great opera, which starred Julia Migenes and Placido Domingo. But that one had the characters breaking into arias on the actual streets of Old Seville, where the opera is set. By contrast, British director Julian Napier’s “Carmen in 3D” derives from an actual stage production, filmed in 3-D during two performances at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
As with the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” movie theater broadcasts (whose success no doubt helped prompt this co-production by RealD Inc. and the Royal Opera), the cameras take us backstage to see the singers warming up beforehand and show us their curtain calls at the end.
This will not bother regular operagoers, who are used to suspending disbelief in the theater, though it may give pause, at first, to newcomers.
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The point is that the story of how a Spanish corporal’s carnal obsession with a Gypsy spitfire leads to their ruin is so universally appealing that it works no matter what the medium. Here the leading roles are taken by photogenic young opera singers who may be unknown internationally but who are as fully immersed in the drama as they are in the music.
Francesca Zambello’s efficient and traditional production, adapted for the 3-D cameras, shows them off handsomely.
Sometimes the 3-D effects amount to nothing more than a flower or a matador’s cape flung at the camera. On the other hand, the fight scenes, complete with flying knives, look far more realistic and dangerous than any you’ll see in your average opera house “Carmen.”
Where 3-D really pays off is when it thrusts key dramatic scenes involving Carmen (British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice) and her obsessed lover, Don Jose (American tenor Bryan Hymel), virtually into our laps. Seldom has the final act, in which the ruined Jose stalks Carmen (who by then has thrown him over for the toreador Escamillo) outside a bullring, proved more gripping.
Designer Tanya McCallin’s minimalist set, a reddish-orange box whose design elements are moved around to create the various scenes, doesn’t give one much to look at, except for the 3-D perspectives that make the stage appear to be much deeper than it actually is. Napier’s observant lens moves fluidly inside and around the action, using close-ups, dissolves and overhead shots to put you sometimes at the center of Jose’s unraveling.
The singers clearly were chosen as much for their physical and dramatic credibility as their vocal chops. Rice’s dusky-voiced Carmen clearly appreciates the power of her sexual allure – watch how the captive Carmen literally ropes in her hapless captor. Hymel’s volatile Jose delivers his Flower Song with a touch of gritty desperation that makes this famous number leap off the screen like one of the 3-D tricks.
CARMEN IN 3D
No MPAA rating
Cast: Christine Rice (Carmen), Bryan Hymel (Don Jose), Aris Argiris (Escamillo), Maija Kovalevska (Micaela), Dawid Kimberg (Morales)
Credits: Directed by Julian Napier; produced by Phil Streather. A RealD and Royal Opera House release.
Running time: 2:50