Our Own JJ in the Observer:

Instead of the glum Sophie Koch in the title role, 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. If the timbre and delivery are something less than classically beautiful, that hardly matters. With her vast dynamic range and idiosyncratically abrupt 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.

On this day in 1984 bass Samuel Ramey, conductor Mario Bernardi and director Frank Corsaro made their Metropolitan Opera debuts in Handel’s Rinaldo.

On this day in 1853 Verdi’s Il trovatore premiered in Rome, and in 1884 Massenet’s Manon premiered in Paris.

Birthday anniversaries of writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809), conductor and composer Albert Wolff (1884), bass-baritone Hans Hotter (1909).

Happy 68th birthday conductor Simon Rattle.