Carmen in 3D

Finally, we know what 3D is for. And no, it’s not to improve the visual aesthetic of Yogi Bear gyrating to “Baby’s Got Back” or to appreciate the subtle nuances of Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet as he destroys his living room in an all-out brawl with Kato.

3D, when done right, elevates a movie to another level and provides a nifty visual element, which adds to the experience instead of distracting. It happened (interestingly enough) last month with Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and now it’s happened again with Carmen in 3D. (Don’t look now, but that’s probably the only time Bieber and the self-proclaimed ‘world’s most beloved opera’ will be mentioned in the same sentence.)

The reason 3D works with these two films is because they’re both theatrical performances, and the added dimension makes you feel (sorta) like you’re there in the arena or opera house, watching it live. There are no bullets flying at your face; the 3D is solely there to give the illusion of sitting in the hall watching a live show.

Carmen in 3D was filmed live at London’s Royal Opera House and is presented in conjunction with RealD, the industry leader in 3D motion pictures. The show begins with scenes of the crew backstage, the audience filing in, the actors taking their places– and then the curtain rises, and we’re given literally the best seat in the house– perched ten feet above the audience, dead center, about ten rows back.

Carmen (Christine Rice) is, a local gypsy woman, the object of affection of every man in the village, but she’ll have none of it. That is, until she notices the one man who’s not noticing her– Don Jose (Bryan Hymel), a soldier in the local army. He almost falls prey to the charms of the fiery Carmen, but then young Micaëla (Maija Kovalevska) walks in, the naive girl who’s staying with Don Jose’s mother in the country. Don Jose decides he obey his mother’s wishes and marry Micaëla, but just then a fight breaks out in the nearby factory. Carmen has attacked a woman with a knife and she’s now under arrest. Don Jose is to transport her to prison, but she seduces him and convinces him to let her go, with the promise that they’ll be together. He releases her and promptly gets arrested himself and is marched off to jail.

A month later, Carmen has gone to her friend’s house and bar, just in time for Escamillo, a champion toreador, to arrive on the scene. He’s instantly smitten with Carmen, setting in motion a love triangle and one of the world’s classic tales of betrayal, jealousy, and fate.

Julian Napier directs Carmen in 3D with the original theatrical staging by Francesca Zambello, and it’s a very simple production. The entire set consists essentially of two flat backdrop walls. The staging is very bare-bones, too, with no elaborate choreography to be found, but it’s a decision that pays off in spades; the audience is allowed to focus on the music, the performances, and the terrifically compelling story.

Rice is fabulous as Carmen, and her voice is off-the-charts. More importantly, she exudes all the charisma required for the part and then some. Bryan Hymel does a stellar job as Don Jose, deftly alternating between jealous fury and, later, almost childish weakness as he’s pleading for Carmen’s love. Aris Argiris is also great as Escamillo, evoking thoughts of the late great Raul Julia.

If you’re new to the opera game, Carmen in 3D is a perfect introduction. It’s captivating, spectacular, and (since it’s in French with English subtitles and includes music that even the most classically-challenged person will recognize) it’s as accessible as you could hope for.

Opera buffs will have just as good a time, too, enjoying this unique, stripped-down production by one of the world’s premiere companies. There will even be a few times that you’ll find yourself wanting to join the London audience’s fervent applause.

No matter the depth of your opera knowledge, seeing Carmen in 3D gives you something no movie has done in a long time. Instead of being swept away to a far-off land, you’re whisked away to the Royal Opera House in all its splendor, as a night at the movies becomes an enthralling night at the opera.

4/5 stars