“Ms. Margaine fully inhabited her character with a vocal performance that underlined the calculation behind the lascivious demeanor. As an actress, she commands something like the stylized expressions of silent-film-era sirens. There is an air of self-loathing about this Carmen that explains why she not only accepts her death at the hands of her jealous lover but also actively orchestrates it.
Smooth and guarded, Ms. Margaine’s singing included touches of straight tone where her inky low notes took on the street-savvy sound of a chansonnière. The sense of tension and control gave way only in the final scene, where, apparently energized by imminent death, her Carmen produced an entirely new sound of bright, fiery power.”
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim – The New York Times
“Clémentine Margaine, another French mezzo slated to sing the balance of this season’s performances, was enlisted to fill in the gap, and proved sensational in her company debut Thursday night.
Margaine has both the vocal and dramatic chops required to give a truly memorable account of this touchstone role. She has a round, dark tone that projects easily and clearly in almost every part of her range … her upper range shoots into the house and her chest crackles with warmth.
She brought a laser focus to her interpretation of the role–no flighty seductress flitting about on a whim, Margaine’s Carmen is a driven woman of ambition who knows exactly how to get her way. She brilliantly channels this dramatic sense into her vocal interpretation, commanding attention with the sultry intensity of her singing. Her Habanera was daring, a steamy, free-handed rendition of some of the sexiest music in the operatic rep; she kept up that commitment throughout, spitting defiance in the faces of the officers during her interrogation, and bitterly resisting Don José in their final confrontation right until her tragic end. It was astonishing to see just how much energy she still had in reserve for that crucial final scene, driving the piece to its conclusion with breathtaking force.”
Eric C. Simpson – New York Classical Review
“Clémentine Margaine made a brilliant Met debut in a steamy, charged performance of Carmen.”
Honorable mention, Top Ten Performances of 2017 – New York Classical Review
“Margaine … makes Carmen palpably voluptuous, physically and vocally.”
Martin Bernheimer – Financial Times
“… the Met offered a intriguing newcomer to the company, French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine.
She’s a mesmerizing performer who from her first moment onstage seemed to be enveloped in an aura presaging doom. This dark nimbus didn’t oppress Margaine’s Carmen; she wore it as easily and casually as a lacy shawl. But somehow in a very profound way, this woman was clearly marked for high tragedy. You could tell that her life would be memorable, important somehow.
Her slightly off-center singing enhanced the mysterious quality of her performance. In her opening aria, Carmen famously describes love as “un oiseau rebelle / Que nul ne peut apprivoiser,” and that metaphor could serve handily as a description of Margaine’s smoky voice: it’s a wild bird nobody can quite tame … With her vast dynamic range and idiosyncratically abrubt changes of tempo, Margaine keeps the listener on their toes: you can’t wait to hear what she’s going to do next.
Her unique take on the part blossomed in the final act, when Carmen is threatened by her ex-lover Don José. We’ve all seen Carmens who were terrified and Carmens who were defiant, but Margaine dug deeper, finding pity for her stalker and a hopeless wish they could go their own ways amicably. Finally, realizing that José would hound her forever, Carmen committed the only act of freedom remaining to her, choosing to be murdered rather than living in fear.”
James Jorden – Observer
“Her Carmen oscillated expertly between icy indifference and immature insecurity with natural ease. But more importantly, her depiction of the Romani factory worker was fully embodied, generating a wide spectrum of affect. Where a lesser actress might allow the character to exist on a superficial plane, a caricature of patriarchal anxiety, Margaine endowed her Carmen with a real personality. And her voice is a stellar instrument: dark and cool, steady like a laser beam, with a vitality that outshines her colleagues.”
Patrick Clement James – Parterre
“Margaine is a spectacular Carmen, singing with a rich voice that can be sultry or arrogant, and she even dances with style (as she demonstrated in the second act tavern scene). She looks the part and makes it clear why her performance has been rapturously received around the world. The Spanish word “duende,” translated as “a quality of passion and inspiration,” seems to fit Margaine’s performance.”
Barry Bassis – The Epoch Times
“Luckily, Clementine Margaine–scheduled for the second cast–was on hand to step into her flamenco shoes for the first night–and all to follow–doing a bang-up job …
As the tenor sings, “Carmen, je t’aime” (“Carmen, I love you”) and that was how I felt about Margaine’s performance. She understandably tiptoed into the first bit of the role, but soon had all the sparks she needed to bring this role to life. Her sultry voice and firm grip on the character made her a pleasure to hear, notably in the famed “Habanera” and “Seguidilla,” and she was game for all the dance moves required in the second act’s scene at Lillas Pastia’s tavern.”
Richard Sasanow – Broadway World
“Her interpretation of the character works quite well with Richard Eyre’s fantastic production that parallels the slaughter of a bull with the heroine’s demise. Margaine’s Carmen is a willful being, full of aggression that she can release at any given moment. Her singing echoed this particular feeling with Margaine usually singing passages unusually soft, forcing the listener to really listen carefully to every delicate nuance in her phrasing. Suddenly as if out of nowhere, she would throw in a timely accent into the phrase, breaking the sense of comfort that her singing had accustomed the listener to. This was most noticeable in Carmen’s “Là-bas, tu me suivrai”, Margaine coming all the way downstage, her feet almost touching the edge of the stage, her voice a tiny thread of sound that projected ever so delicately through the theater. By the end of the passage, her voice was a cannon, its massive sound pouring across the theater. Similar phrasing and vocal approach was utilized in the seguidilla and finally the Card aria from Act 3.
This latter section was particularly poignant in the slow tempo, the sense of dread pouring into the weight employed vocally and emotionally in the aria. Each movement toward the low note that climaxes the aria almost like death strokes.
Physically, Margaine matched her vocal ferocity and variety with physical prowess. While some showcase Carmen as a more sensual being, Margaine is straight-up sexual. She had no qualms about flaunting her cleavage at every chance and her suggestive touching of Don Jose and Zuñiga was rather explicit at moments (definitely not PG-13). Her gait expressed a woman with tremendous confidence, her glare vicious and predatory.
Margaine’s character never truly felt that it had any weaknesses toward the sentiments of others, though her stare during Don Jose’s “Flower Song” did betray a sense of tenderness toward the suffering man. During the final love duet with Escamillo, there was also a sense of tenderness as she looked into Kyle Ketelson’s eyes, their voices meshing in the lush melodic figures.
But those were but fleeting moments, the strength of the character seemingly growing in composure as she faced down death in that final scene.
Alongside Rafael Davila as Don Jose, Margaine threw herself about with abandon, letting the audience feel every blow in visceral fashion. Every time she looked into Davila’s eyes throughout the duet, the tension ramped up, the feeling of the unmovable object and unstoppable force colliding at increasing speed. And through this, Margaine retained vocal control, emphasizing Carmen’s control.”
David Salazar – OperaWire
Image: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera