It often happens to me when reviewing a newly-released operatic DVD of a familiar opera that I find myself skipping from set number to set number. I do this to fight off annoyance with the mindless capriciousness of stage directors as they inflict damage on the great works of the standard repertoire.

That was not the case as I sat and watched with delight all four acts of Bizet’s Carmen in a recent Naxos release of a superb 2009 Opera Comique production staged by the English director Adrian Noble and led by his compatriot, Sir John Elliot Gardiner helming the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir.

At the front and center of this fine staging is the estimable soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, not quite fifty back then and still at the peak of her powers. The Italian singer delivers here a ferocious performance, exquisitely sung and full of volatility, mystery, and seductiveness.

The cast, ranging from the achingly vulnerable Micaela of Anne Catherine Gillet to the vocally and dramatically first-rate Don José of Andrew Richards, to the elegant Escamillo of Nicolas Cavallier is impeccable. A terrific ensemble of Opera Comique regulars – Virginie Fachon, Annie Gill, Francis Dudziak, and Vincent Ordonneau as the smugglers – and Riccardo Novaro as Morales and Matthew Brook as Zuniga, are note-perfect.

What is most remarkable about the entire ensemble, from the leads to the singers in the supporting roles is the total commitment to the assignment: the handling of the spoken dialogue, the detailed acting, and, above all, a respect for the dynamic markings specified by Bizet.

In the Micaela- Don José and later in the Flower Song, Andrew Richards scales down his sizeable voice to great effect, spinning out a ravishing voix mixte that serves the music, as the singer sets aside any vocal grandstanding. At other times Anna Caterina Antonacci avoids any cheap effects and gratuitous optional notes, singing exactly what Bizet prescribed.

The Monteverdi Choir looks like real denizens of Seville, dressed in authentic garb designed by set and costume designer Mark Thompson, and singing gloriously. Sir John Elliot Gardiner obtains stupendous playing from the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique all the while being the ideal singers’ conductor.

The Opera Comique holds under nine hundred patrons, a perfect-size house for the many middle-weight lyric voices that make life-long careers in that theatre, an ideal venue for Bizet’s Carmen.

Rafael de Acha                  All About the Arts