Whatever he wants, Breen Combes and Yanowsky give it to him, she sinuous and swivel-hipped and in total control, he the improbable love child of Clark Gable and Danny Kaye. Breen Combes has been showered with praise by New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay, and looking at these performances (along with the ones in Balanchine’s Diamonds last season, also with Yanowsky), you could hardly argue with him. Yanowsky too has never been better. The second cast, Feijóo with James Whiteside, make an eloquent case for multiple visits: he’s an unnerving combination of virile and boyish and American, and you can see him piquing her Latin curiosity, even as she reveals less (while still hinting at lots) than Breen Combes. Both couples also make the case for this Carmen as a complex, unsettling original and not just an abridged version of Bizet’s opera.
Pavel Gurevich is a bullying, totalitarian (are there Nazi overtones here?) Zuniga who with a single look can expose Don José’s frailties; I wish Elo had given this character a bigger role. Ditto for Hough’s Mercedes — I wonder why Hough, who was a sensationally mature and thoughtful Giselle in the final performance of the company’s season-opening production two weeks back, wasn’t given more to do here, a Paquita at the very least. Varga was the star Escamillo in 2006, and so far he has the role to himself (Carlos Molina, who did it in 2006, is injured), but his part seems to have been tamped down; even his entrance at the end of the Farandole (on loan from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne) is less flamboyant. Some obscurities, like the murder of Zuniga, have been brought out from the shadows, and it’s clearer now that Carmen has to work to keep Escamillo’s interest. Some mysteries remain: in place of Don José writing furiously on the walls of the structure, we now have Carmen writing furiously on Escamillo’s bare back.
The Boston Ballet Orchestra, under Jonathan McPhee, continues to make excellent use of the Opera House’s pellucid acoustics, especially in the big climax of Shchedrin’s Adagio (drawn from Bizet’s act two Flower Song, and sounding in its swelling string arrangement like a theme from a John Ford Western). This section is danced by Don José, Mikaela, and Carmen, a trio that’s about to be a duo, and it’s enough to make anyone cry.