Tenor Marcelo Alvarez stands out in Met role

February 5, 2008 3:15:06 PM PST
They switched operas to suit the tenor - not that anyone would complain about Bizet's "Carmen" - and the Argentine singer didn't disappoint.

The Metropolitan Opera had originally scheduled Offenbach's "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" for Monday night. Last spring, they changed it to accommodate Marcelo Alvarez, who is moving into heftier tenor roles.

Early during his performance as the obsessed Spanish soldier Don Jose, Alvarez had slight intonation problems in the high register. But his voice opened up during the "Flower Song" and built to the final act, when he poured out his murderous passion as he stabbed Carmen to death in a jealous rage.

Russian mezzo Olga Borodina, who has made the title role one of her signatures, needed no warmup. Her seductively dark voice was on the mark from the opening moments of the "Habanera" to her dying breath. Although she sang with great precision and feeling, her stage presence could have been more alluring. For instance, her table dancing was kept to a minimum in the Act II tavern scene in which she meets the dashing Escamillo.

Portraying Escamillo, Italian baritone Lucio Gallo needed a bit more of the macho swagger of the toreador who would lure Carmen away from Don Jose. In making his Met role debut, his low pitches wobbled just after his entrance, but he found his way in his big number - the "Toreador Song."

As Micaela, Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska gave a heartfelt performance depicting the woman Don Jose spurned for Carmen. And the children's chorus charmed the opera house while marching around the stage in Act I.

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume opened with a brisk pace and turned in an energized performance through the four-act opera, which has seven more performances through March 1. However, Franco Zeffirelli's eye-catching production, first staged in 1996, should have summoned that musical energy with more Spanish dancing to capture the spirit of Seville.

Although Bizet's opera predates the verismo period, reality struck in the opening street scene. For one of the two live donkeys, nature took its course just after the animal was led on stage. Without distraction, chorus members trod carefully until someone in costume cleaned up the mess, creating a new role for a supernumerary and producing chuckles from the audience. Luckily, the horses and dogs that also were paraded on stage minded their manners.