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Elyse Lyon

Staatsoper Berlin 2019-20 Review: Carmen

Michael Fabiano & Anita Rachvelishvili Deliver Unforgettable Final Performance In Challenging Times

“Don José, through the course of the production, was the sole thoroughly human character—a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that the opera appeared to take place in his dying mind, filtered through his subjective experience.

Fabiano’s command of the role was captivating, a tour de force of phenomenal singing informed by deep psychological and dramatic understanding. Most notable was the complexity of his performance and the complete earnestness he brought to the role.

Though the production began with unmistakable hints of Don José’s sinister qualities—the dragoons in the first scene menaced Micaëla and stripped her clothes off in a premonition of sexual violence, while Don José’s arrest of Carmen was colored by what appeared a nasty erotic thrill at his power over a woman—his character was, nevertheless, largely a convincingly sympathetic one. He seemed a figure of sensitivity and depth, honest and intensely sincere. The apparent guilelessness of his emotional expressions made a marked contrast against Carmen’s changeable heart and penchant for lying.

Through much of the final act, in particular, Fabiano’s performance was utterly disarming. He sat on the stage like a dazed child, stroking his hands across the sand like a toddler might on a playground. Despite knowing the opera’s finale, despite the production’s many reminders that his character was capable of violence and murder, one fully believed his appeals to Carmen. He seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve as he swore that he had not come to threaten Carmen, but solely because he adored her. Once or twice, the intensity of his pleas became disconcerting, verging on unhinged and creepy—but then, an instant later, the naked emotion in his words overwhelmed any sense of danger, and one was won over by the conviction that his character’s intentions were pure.

In the age of #MeToo, some might take issue with this sympathetic portrayal. Some might wish Don José to be portrayed as more recognizably evil, and Carmen more thoroughly human. Nevertheless, the complex dynamic presented here was an astute and relevant one. Violence, after all, is rarely perpetrated by Scarpia-like caricatures of evil. Many women would recognize the truthfulness of Fabiano’s Don José: a figure whose adoration appears genuine, who seems to pose no threat, and whose real danger lies in the very empathy he arouses. Most of us are far weaker than Rachvelishvili’s implacable Carmen, and an appeal as moving as Fabiano’s might easily sway us. Many a woman has been trapped in abusive relationships for similar reasons: swayed by convincing expressions of love, sympathetic to the human vulnerability of a character like Fabiano’s Don José, never entirely cognizant of danger until it becomes too late to escape.

And Fabiano’s Don José, in the end, revealed the true nature of his character. One received the impression that the very sensitivity that made him so winning also fueled his murder of Carmen. Fabiano had played, through the course of the opera, a weak and emotionally fragile Don José, in contrast with the archetypal machismo of Lucio Gallo’s Escamillo and the unbending power of Rachvelishvili’s Carmen. In the final minutes of the opera, he attempted to turn the tables: taunting a suddenly vulnerable Carmen like a matador taunts a bull, visibly relishing his moment of dominance.

At the last, however, it was Carmen who emerged triumphant: still implacable, accepting her death, while Fabiano reeled back from her corpse in horror and tortured shock.”


Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus / Staatsoper Berlin

"Fabiano and Rachvelishvili were equally electrifying as they portrayed a gamut of human emotion."


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