We’re promised “the best seat in the house” but that turns out to be a wheelchair moving around six feet in front of the performers and rarely straying beyond the proscenium. Furthermore, this Royal Opera House production is as conventional as you could imagine. Compared to inventive cinematic takes (the township-set U-Carmen, Preminger’s Carmen Jones or Carlos Saura’s 1980s version, to name three), it feels like a step back in time, regardless of the hi-tech trappings.
When 3-D really works, it can add an entirely new dimension of dramatic space, and you get that in a few moments here, in some of the duets and toward the end, when Don Jose (Bryan Hymel) stalks his ex-lover Carmen (Christine Rice) across all points of the stage. But most of “Carmen in 3D’’ uses RealD technology without using it well, and the high-contrast lighting emphasizes one of 3-D’s biggest flaws — the way reflective surfaces, like the shine of a guard’s patent leather hat or even the extras’ hair, play havoc with the polarized filters in your plastic glasses.
Also Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times is not convinced by the 3-D,
Sometimes we peek onto the stage. Sometimes the gods of rubbernecking reward us with characters who pop up in front of us close enough to touch. The camera directs our eyes to details, the dirt on the Gypsies’ legs, for instance (which was in the original production). Carmen shows her legs a lot, but in 3-D, the effect is more anatomical than salacious.
And Anne Midgette in The Washington Post agrees,
“Carmen in 3D” signposts this fact from the very beginning: It opens in the dressing room where Bryan Hymel, the tenor, is warming up to sing Don Jose, while other singers apply makeup and get into costume. We are assembling the illusion, in three dimensions. All the initial magic of the 3D experience, in fact, is expended on Hymel’s offstage physicality. Lest we forget that he’s a real person about to play a character, he gives a little grin at the camera as he leaves the dressing room and prepares to go on.Anyone who thinks this opening signals this movie’s playful attitude toward illusion, technology and 3D will be sadly disappointed. It turns out that this behind-the-scenes view is no more than the dutiful inclusion of an element that opera-broadcast audiences have come to expect. The rest of “Carmen in 3D” simply documents the opera house production, from beginning to end… The takeaway message is that the opera exists to be documented, rather like a subject of dissection.
Opera cameramen these days seldom linger, presumably to keep the viewer entertained, but as the camera angle here darts around, one is left uncertain about the actual orientation of what one is seeing. What is the stage picture? Where are we? Bodies appear larger than life, reaching out into our space, but cut off at the waist by the bottom of the screen, inadvertently emphasizing not naturalism, but the medium’s artificiality. The technology rapidly becomes a distraction: By constantly reaffirming that we are supposed to be watching an illusion, it compromises that illusion’s ability to work.
Rachel Saltz for The New York Times doesn’t understand the use of 3-D either,
Take away the 3-D, and this is a straightforward filming of Ms. Zambello’s straightforward staging of Bizet’s opera. Even if it were in flat, old 2-D, you might wonder why so little had been done to accommodate the camera. The makeup, for example, no doubt reads in the last row of the Royal Opera House balcony, but on screen it mostly looks globby.
The Washington Post was pleased about the casting,
This “Carmen,” to its credit, managed to find good-looking, role-appropriate young singers. Even more to its credit, or Francesca Zambello’s, is that this director consistently gets such good acting performances from singers. Christine Rice makes a spunky, sexy gypsy; Maija Kovalevska is beautiful as Micaela, tortured by her love for the largely oblivious Jose; Bryan Hymel sings solidly and is both handsome and slightly nerdy, as Jose should be; and Aris Argiris, a Greek baritone, made his Royal Opera House debut as a hunky and well-sung Escamillo.
The New York Times points out that
while the cast consists of fine singers, there are no marquee names (this is opera and film: the people call out for stars!) and no grab-you-by-the-throat performances. In the title role, the British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice sings with warmth and agility, but she’s saddled with Ms. Zambello’s off-the-rack Carmenisms.
The LA Times agrees,
Christine Rice is not a sexy Carmen but a fatalistic, world-weary one. From a feminist point of view, that is not uninteresting. She has a firm, slightly earthy, attractive mezzo-soprano. Bryan Hymel is an eager, angry, angst-ridden, mildly charismatic Don José, her besotted lover. Maija Kovalevska’slovely soprano makes her a standout Micaëla, Don José’s good-girl girlfriend from home. Aris Argiris, the bullfighter Escamillo, doesn’t cut a colorful figure, theatrically or vocally. Constantinos Carydis is a forthright conductor.
But surely the voluptuous Antonacci and eye-catching Kaufmann of the original cast would have provided the ideal chemistry set for a proper 3-D opera experiment.
Only Derek Malcolm in The London Evening Standard has no reserves,
This is a straightforward, well-made film of the Royal Opera’s last production of Bizet’s masterpiece. It makes no bones about being theatrical, with thankfully no postmodern trimmings, giving you a pretty good seat in the house and adding plausible 3D.
Christine Rice is a flightly, energetic lead, with Bryan Hymel as Don Jose. Chiefly, though, the swirling production, which includes a donkey, a horse and chickens, is the thing to see. They don’t sing, but make this old warhorse seem sprightly and fresh
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.