Theatre review – Carmen

Carmen – review for Essential Surrey website

Andrew Morris enjoys a timeless story of Latin passion, love and tragedy, at G Live in Guildford

Well, that was a multinational introduction to opera.

Carmen is a classic opera, with something of a complicated bloodline. The score and text were written by the Frenchman Georges Bizet in the 1870s, adapted from a novel by Prosper Merimee and a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin. This performance was produced and directed by Ellen Kent, a prolific English purveyor of opera and ballet, while the cast hailed mainly from Eastern Europe, and the Orchestra was from Moldova.

The story takes place in Spain, a timeless story of passion, love and tragedy that unfolds in Seville and its wild surrounding mountains.

The honest and naive corporal Don José is besotted when fiery, beautiful Gypsy Carmen shakes her flouncy Flamenco dress in his direction. He has soon deserted both the army and his childhood sweetheart Micaela, in the belief that his and Carmen’s passionate attraction will endure. Unfortunately for poor Don José, a life of crime hidden in the mountains doesn’t sit as well with him as does the wayward Carmen, and he soon finds himself torn between blind devotion and his duties.

Carmen, on the other hand, is soon distracted by the glamorous toreador Escamillo, and they fall in love, with Carmen taunting the hapless Don José. Well, everyone knows Carmen’s affairs only last 6 months.

With that, the tragic die is cast, and the inevitable, fatal dénouement takes place outside the bullfighting arena back in Seville.

Bizet’s musical score is rightly acclaimed for its melody, atmosphere and orchestration. This production captured its ability to represent the differing emotions of the protagonists. We’re introduced to the exotic, free-flying Carmen in one of opera’s most famous arias, Habanera (officially titled l’amour est un oiseau rebelle – love is a rebellious bird), and when Escamillo shows up with his flashy entourage in Act 2 you can’t help but hum along with the rousing Toreador aria.

The actors suit their roles as well as the music. Liza Kadelnik was born to be independent-spirited, buxom flame-haired Carmen, while Maria Tonina perfectly captured the sweet nature of Micaela, and Iurie Gisca as Escamillo strutted around in his cape as though he had already slain 1,000 bulls. Ruslan Zinevych was a timid Don José, and it was no surprise when Carmen moved on to the dashing bullfighter.

As thrilling as the story and music remained, however, this production felt strangely disjointed.

The English translation, scrolling through on a panel high above the stage, was a boon for Carmen virgins. Unfortunately, it conveyed dialogue and speeches that were more stilted than flowing and passionate, and perhaps also a little condensed from the original French words.

The evening was spread over 3 ¼ hours, with one intermission after Act 1 and another just before the final Act 4. Some of the transitions between scenes were a little clunky, and I’m afraid the time taken to change the set between the middle two Acts dragged on so long that the audience could be heard asking if the cast had gone home.

Despite these weaknesses, it was still an enjoyable evening. Merci, Monsieur Bizet. Grazias, Carmen. Thanks, Ms Kent.

 

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