Carmen (1984)

Genres - Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Film-Opera, Musical Drama  |   Run Time - 152 min.  |   Countries - France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Mike Cummings

Adapting an opera for film is a daunting task. On the one hand, the performers must act their parts convincingly while matching their prerecorded voices to their lip movements. On the other, technicians must continually tweak their sound equipment during outdoor scenes to maintain studio-quality reproduction under constantly changing temperatures and wind conditions. In this heralded 1984 film production of Carmen, the cast and sound crew work in nearly perfect synergy on-location in Spain to create a landmark film that set high standards for future opera films. Love gone wrong -- deceitful, fatal love -- is, of course, the central theme of this Georges Bizet masterpiece, one of the most popular and most frequently performed operas of all time. In an innovation establishing this theme, director Francesco Rosi opens the production in an arena in which a roaming bull bleeds under the assault of banderilleros and picadors -- after a matador promised everything with the wave of a scarlet cloak but yielded nothing. American soprano Julia Migenes-Johnson is magnificent as Carmen. Her sultry movements and her peasant defiance communicate nearly as effectively as her soprano voice, which she spent months manipulating to develop the mezzo quality demanded by her role. Placido Domingo, opera's undisputed king of repertoire who has performed the role of Don José hundreds of times on-stage and in audio recordings, demonstrates why critics view him as one of the better tenors of recent decades. Although his acting is pedestrian and his then middle-age physique lacks dash, his voice has decibels to spare. He gets the job done. The cinematography, the period costumes, and the instrumental support of the Orchestre National de France under Lorin Maazel are all excellent.