The latest WNO’s production of Carmen is engaging and well executed though still a little too traditional. The excellent cast, choir, and orchestra make this Carmen spirited, colourful, and vibrant. Julia Mintzer as Carmen is pure energy and grit. This is a great improvement from last year’s production, which lacked tension and teeth. Mintzer has stage presence and a voice to match it. She is a credible Carmen who never falls into stereotype. She’s sensual and defiant. She defies her murderer but also fate. Carmen is a woman who does not want to be confined to a role, not even the role of outsider. It is her stubborn individuality that leads her to her death. She does not flee nor does she accept to be under the authority of a man. She is not a victim.
Elin Pritchard as Micaëla is superb. She has a beautiful tonality and conveys Micaela’s pure love and compassion with dignity. Mintzer and Pritchard complement each other beautifully in their acting and their singing. Peter Auty is an impressive Don José. Giorgio Caoduro seems at ease performing Escamillo and much more convincing than he was in Les Veprês Siciliennes. All the members of the cast give strong performances. The choir is, as ever, powerful. The children, in particular, are formidable. The dance is captivating and well integrated in the scenes.
I remain unpersuaded by the setting in Brazil’s favelas and the grey brutalist scenario; yet the much improved acting and movement on stage help make this more relevant. The intent is to stress class as well as gender, but it feels too traditionalist and conventional. I would have preferred the production to be bolder. In recent years, there have been women protesting against femicide and rape in Latin America, Europe, and India. They have often used theatre and song to do so. There have been women protests against draconian abortion laws in the US, where women have donned the red cape and white hat from The Handmaiden’s Tale. Yet there is no anger in Jo Davies’ WNO production. It could be objected that opera is for a traditionalist and bourgeois elite, but I sat surrounded by many young women in their early twenties. Carmen can speak to those women. There should be not fear of being over the top. Being over the top is what Carmen is all about.