Sure, a security guard walks by during Carmen and José’s final confrontation and doesn’t intervene. And at the end, the women in the bleachers at the rodeo rise in solidarity while the men remain seated. But it’s all too little, too late for anything approaching a structural critique — or even just interesting, vibrant theater.
Some of Cracknell’s choices, in fact, make the work less provocative. The children’s chorus mimics the changing of the guard in the opera’s opening act; if you’d like, society is training them for militarism. But rather than doubling down, Cracknell has the kids sing directly to the audience, choosing charm over menace.
And it’s wrongheaded to imply, as Cracknell does, that the male chauvinism has been suppressed and the violence romanticized in previous “Carmen” productions. At the Met alone, I remember a performance of an old-fashioned Franco Zeffirelli staging around 2000, a few years after it premiered, in which the deadly final scene really did provide the queasy sensation of spying through a window on a murder, with all the attendant feelings of horror, excitement and shame.
Richard Eyre’s production, which replaced the Zeffirelli in 2009 and set the work at the time of the Spanish Civil War, introduced a pervading sense of grimness, of the characters being thrown together by forces beyond their control. That was a show in which you certainly felt Carmen’s brooding fate more than her stereotypical insouciance or sex appeal. It made the stakes of the opera clearer and darker than they were on Sunday.
And in removing the opera’s exoticizing of Spain as the playground of bandits and Gypsies, Cracknell, who is British, introduces a more insidious exoticizing. As in the Australian director Simon Stone’s 2022 Met staging of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” the frisson of this “Carmen” is its glib depiction of so-called flyover states — the part of the country that fascinates the operagoing elite as much as Seville fascinated 19th-century Paris.
There’s something depressing, even corrosive, in taking such a superficial glance at our fellow Americans, when — especially as an election year dawns — our cultural institutions should be trying to help us understand one another.
Through Jan. 27, and returning in the spring with a new cast, at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; metopera.org.