Review Carmen, WNO by Barbara Michaels.

CARMEN Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Opera: Georges Bizet

Libretto: Henri Melham and Ludovic Haley

Director: Jo Davies

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opera aficionados are fortunate to have seen Jo Davies new production of Carmen for WNO when it was first staged here in the Donald Gordon theatre last year.  Now there is another chance to see this production again, with different artistes in the main roles. 

Davies’ take on the popular opera retains all the drama of the original, despite being transferred from Spain to 1970s Brazil., the girls from the cigarette factory being clad in boiler suits and machine gun toting soldiers in khaki guarding the garrison. Some excellent performances. Including that of young Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard, are a major feature but what this production – emphasising the power of women in tune with the ‘woke’ attitudes and mores of today’s world – lacks is colour.  Although we are treated to a fore screen of garish oranges and reds, pretty well everything else is monotone until almost the end. Drab grey army uniforms and American-style bucket helmets versus the traditional colourful gear of the Spanish soldiers in Bizet’s original make it hard to see the raison d’etre for the sexual chemistry and passion which lead to the downfall of the free spirit that is Carmen and the soldier Don José, whose love and jealousy erupt to cause the tragic finale.

Making her UK and WNO debut, Julia Mintzer plays Carmen as callous and calculating, using her wiles to ensnare anything in trousers.  A prostitute with a heart she ain’t, but Mintzer’s portrayal does not prevent some stunning performances in her singing of the wonderful Habanera and in her duets with Carmen’s soldier lover Don José, sung with skill and empathy by Peter Auty, one of Britain’s leading tenors.  

Auty’s performance, both in his duets with Mintzer and with Pritchard, as the naïve country girl Micaela whose innocence is no match for Carmen’s wiles, is outstandingly good.  The same can be said for Pritchard, a heart-breaking and totally believable Micaëla.  Pritchard’s pure soprano soars into the realms of absolute joy.

The third side of the triangle is the bullfighter Escamillo, sung by Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro.  Caoduro has performed leading roles with major opera companies, including singing Dandini in Cenerentola with WNO. Caoduro’s baritone, andstage presence are great for the role, with the caveat that a tad more swagger wouldn’t come amiss.

As Carmen’s friend Mercedes, who does her best to stop Carmen in her tracks, young artiste 
Angela Simkin, who has also sung the role at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is a great fit and a young singer to watch, as is Korean singer Haigeee Lee as Frasquita, another friend.  Some superb dancing is choreographed to include sultry and sexy Argentinian tango steps, a cape-swirling Paso Doble, a mock-up of a bullfight – and more.  Ole!

As for the setting: inspired layering replicating a tenement block allows for interaction beyond and above what is happening on stage – on the whole an overall benefit, but at times irritating, as well as detracting attention from the main onstage action.

Under the baton of the young and immensely popular conductor Harry Ogg, Bizet’s superb music is done full justice from the stirring overture with its hint of tragedy to come right until the curtain comes down.

Run:  Saturday 29 February, 2020 then touring.

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