Metropolitan Opera 2016-17 Preview: Two Radically Different ‘Carmen’ Interpreters Arrive In Sophie Koch & Clémentine Margaine [UPDATE]

By David Salazar

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Jan. 17 it was announced that Sophie Koch would not be singing the role at the Met and that Clémentine Margaine would be taking over the entire run. For more information, read OperaWire’s coverage on the news. 

Opera’s most famous gypsy returns to the Metropolitan Opera stage on Thursday, Jan. 19.

This year’s run of “Carmen” will feature two different mezzo sopranos taking on the title role, both doing it at the Met for the very first time.

The Performers

Sophie Koch received accolades for her turn as Charlotte alongside Jonas Kaufmann back in 2014 in Massenet’s “Werther.” That was her debut at the house and now, three years later, she returns to take on the famed heroine in Bizet’s opera for the very first time in her career. Back in 2014 she noted in an interview with Opera News that “As a French singer, singing in French and singing Carmen, you always think you will disappoint people. People expect something special from you, and that is a bit scary.”

She will alternate the role with Clémentine Margaine, who has sung the role everywhere. Since 2013, she has taken on the opera in Berlin, Dallas, Rome, Munich, Washington, Canada, Naples, Sydney and will explore it further in Paris and Dresden after her run at the Met comes to an end.

Taking on the role of Don José will be tenor Marcelo Alvarez, who made his role debut at the Met years ago. Alternating Michaela will be Maria Agresta and Janai Brugger while Michael Todd Simpson and Kyle Ketelson portray on Escamillo.

Asher Fisch, Louis Langrée and Derrick Inouye conduct the run.

The Opera & Production

Bizet’s opera is best known for its catchy tunes, all based on Spanish styles and rhythms. The eponymous character never gets a formal aria, her solo numbers all “songs.” In the current Richard Eyre production she also gets a few dance numbers.

The Eyre production places particular emphasis on the rupture caused by the Spanish Civil War as a juxtaposition for José and Carmen’s increasingly ruptured romance. The idea of an animalistic battle between the two is showcased through physicality in two symbolic dancers as well as the way the two characters are directed to interact. The final image of the work, sums up the thematic conception.

Notable Recordings

The Met’s production is available on DVD starring Elina Garanca as the heroine and Roberto Alagna as her fallen lover. Of the older production by Peter Hall there is a video recording featuring Agnes Baltsa and José Carreras under the baton of James Levine. There is also a movie directed by Franceso Rosi starring Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes that actually features ideas apparent in Eyre’s Met production.

One of the notable recordings of the opera features Rise Stevens, Jan Peerce, Licia Albanese and Robert Merrill. Another stars Victoria de Los Angeles and Niccolai Gedda under Sir Thomas Beecham.