Review: Carmen

Despite Candyfloss the donkey’s best efforts, Carmen at the Grand Opera House lacked the fire and passion it deserved. reviews

Carmen picture

Venue: Grand Opera House, York
Date: 20th April, 2013
Composer: Georges Bizet
Director: Ellen Kent
Rating: 2 stars

Last Saturday my friend and I crawled out of our unsociable stupor for a classy night at the opera. She happened to be an opera virgin. As it turned out, Ellen Kent’s production of Carmen, featuring the Chisinau National Opera & Philharmonic, didn’t set the bar very high for any future outings.

Georges Bizet’s iconic opera Carmen tells the story of Don José, a soldier who rejects the love of Micaëla, a young girl from his village, for the wild passion of Carmen, a beautiful and dangerous gypsy girl. Carmen’s affections wane in the presence of a bullfighter, and the resulting jealousy induces José’s tragic disintegration as the couple’s ‘love’ turns sour.

The first scene had a live donkey. ‘Candyfloss’ was dragged and held at the side of the stage during the opening sequence, and although he was a fantastic addition to the cast, (in fact there was a collection for donkey charities at the end), his presence was evidently for novelty effect rather than necessity. Kent paid extreme attention to detail with regards to each Act’s set. Each was stunningly painted and dressed with flowers, statues, and fountains. The dark, brooding atmosphere created in Act III provided an effective aesthetic contrast to the brightness of the Seville scenes.

Ecaterina Danu as Micaëla was sweet, pretty, and demonstrated superior acting to other cast members. Her song ‘Parle-moi de ma mère’ was one of the highlights of Act I, as her demure girlishness was overcome by a genuine expression of love for Don José. Danu’s voice and gestures effervesced with emotion. Other highlights were Frasquita and Mercédès’ exchange whilst reading their cards, played by Maria Tonina and Olga Busuioc respectively. Their voices intertwined beautifully with Carmen’s in ‘Mêlons! – Coupons!’, and the contrasting fates of the 3 females provided a simultaneously tragic and humorous tableau. The ‘Quintette’ in Act II demonstrated the cast’s ability to perform vocal acrobatics; unfortunately this was the exception rather than the rule.

Problems arose in the portrayals of the two central characters. Nadhezdha Stoianova was cast in the title role, and whilst her costumes enabled her to bare generous amounts of flesh, her devastating and magnetic sexuality, which is at the heart of the opera, appeared awkward rather than smouldering. Whilst her voice was adequate, ‘Habenera’, her character’s most recognisable aria, was dispassionate and flat, and the scene needed an injection of life and tempo. Similarly, Sorin Lupu’s portrayal of Don José did not highlight the character’s disintegration, which some argue positions him at the actual centre of the opera, in a way that accurately conveys Carmen’s shattering effect. The pair lacked sexual chemistry, and teamed with a number of wardrobe malfunctions, the whole thing became rather farcical.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I was genuinely disappointed. The production lacked fire – scenes which should have been pivotal moments, such as José’s arrest and Carmen’s death, did not induce any emotional response. The chorus members were necessary only in that they filled out the stage, and the orchestra, although wonderfully conducted by Nicolae Dohotaru, was just not powerful enough to project Bizet’s swelling melodies through the auditorium.

Kent evidently worked hard in creating a ‘vision’ of Carmen, and whilst the production was enjoyable, I’m inclined to think that any opera that makes you wish that the four-legged ‘mute’ donkey would reappear, needs a little more work.

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