Carmen in 3D: Film Review

World premiere of first 3D live opera is best suited to existing fans of Bizet’s classic.

The added element of 3D will not convert uninitiated viewers into fans of the popular opera.

Nineteenth Century opera meets 21st Century special effects with Carmen in 3D, a co-production of RealD and London’s Royal Opera House that marks the first filming of a live opera in 3D. A faithful re-staging of Bizet’s best-known work, it’s unlikely to win many converts to the art form, as much as its backers would like it to serve as a cinematic billboard for opera. The film’s opening March 5 will draw mainly the faithful and curious. An encore may await once 3D TV becomes more accessible. 

The performance’s narrative is familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with opera – or indeed, with romance. The free-spirited gypsy Carmen (Christine Rice) is a merciless flirt but not prone to monogamy, until she sets her eyes on Don Jose (Bryan Hymel), a corporal of the guard in 19th Century Seville. Jose is disinterested at first, more infatuated with the sweet Micaela (Maija Kovalevska), who arrives from his hometown bearing a letter from his mother. 
But Carmen pursues Jose until she’s wooed him to desert the army to join her and a band of smugglers sneaking contraband into the city. Meanwhile, the dashing bullfighter Escamillo (Aris Argiris) has become smitten with Carmen’s charms and tempts her away from Jose, whose passionate jealousy bodes certain tragedy. 
Undeniably one of the world’s most popular operas, familiar arias like “L’amour Est un Oiseau Rebelle” and “Votre Toast, Je Peux Vous le Render” (the “Toreador song”) are as stirring as ever in the Royal Opera House production. However, a two-plus hour running time (not including a 20 minute intermission), while consistent with the live performance, may prove an obstacle for the uninitiated, not to mention the subtitled French songs and dialogue. And it turns out that 3D doesn’t add a great deal to enjoyment of the show. 
Director Julian Napier’s ability to set and move the camera among the players is a far more immersive experience than the 3D image, which tends to be distracting, rather than enhancing the performance. Stage director Francesca Zambello adds additional depth to the staging with strategic blocking and evocative sets.  
Principal performances by mezzo-soprano Rice and tenor Hymel are well up to international standards, with the players impressively singing and acting their demanding roles. Certain to stand the test of time as the first live performance of an opera in 3D, this production of Carmen doesn’t do much to make the show any more accessible to general audiences. 
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Production companies: RealD and the Royal Opera House
Cast: Christine Rice, Bryan Hymel, Aris Argiris, Maija Kovalevska
Director: Julian Napier
Librettists: Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy 
Producer: Phil Streather
Executive producers: RealD, Royal Opera House
Director of photography: Sean MacLeod Phillips
Music: Georges Bizet
Editors: Julian Napier, Stroo Oloffson
No rating, 170 minutes
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