Carmen, WNO at Cardiff and touring

REVENGE, we are told, is a dish best served cold. That may be a truth in life, but it is not a good description of the three operas, all of which have revenge at their hearts in very differing forms, which make up the Welsh National Opera’s Spring tour programme.

There is certainly nothing cold about Bizet’s Carmen, which heads the trio, Verdi’s Les Vepres Siciliennes and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro completing the tour programme.

That said, there was room for the production of Carmen to test the water in the Mille­nium Centre to build up a greater heat of passionate steam. Julia Mintzer has scope to paint a more voluptuous temptress. At present this Carmen teased and toyed with Peter Auty’s truculent Don Jose, but there was not enough of a free spirit on view to drive a man to self destruction.

In turn this Don Jose was such a brooding introvert that you wondered, apart from a means of escaping the authorities who strove to put her in jail, what had attracted Carmen to him in the first place.

You have the feeling however that as the tour progresses these two characterisations, at present sung and acted with a little too much care and not enough flair, will grow in passion and authority.

Something that unfortunately will not change is that last costume Gabrielle Dalton has chosen for Carmen to wear in the final dramatic scene, or the use of the series of mesh fences that designer Leslie Travers uses to depict the outside of the Bull Ring. The dress and over the wrist handbag give the impression that Carmen is a 1950s factory girl off to the local palais de dance, rather than the flamboyant girlfriend of the star Matador, and the mesh fencing makes for some untidy chorus movement.

In contrast the military uniforms (the production is set at a time in the near past) suited the style and period of the production perfectly and the opening set, which look­ed like a three story tenement building, formed an equally suitable background for the changing first scenes. It was in those first scenes that we were first introduced to Elin Pritchard, who, building on a beautifully judged underplayed opening, stole the overall vocal and dramatic honours with her portrayal of Micaela.

In the opposite direction Giorgio Caoduro, quite comfortable vocally, would have benefited from a little help to expand his Escamillo character. With hardly any colour to his costume, and involved in a fight with Don Jose that was a long way from a John Wayne v Victor McLaglen  effort, this was not a man with the sort of charisma that would draw hundreds of followers to the bull fights.

Whilst conductor Harry Ogg drove the orchestra on at a pace that at moments had the chorus almost fighting to keep up, director Oliver Lamford was much more cautious in his use of movement, more than one scene looking rather static. Rather like the relationship between Carmen and Don Jose there was the feeling that this was still a work in progress and the that the production and orchestral input will quickly come closer together to lift this presentation onto a much higher level.

The first chance you have to see Carmen and compare it with David Pountney’s equally dramatic  production of Les Vepres Sicili­ennes, full of revenge and revolutions, and revenge on a much more light-hearted level in The Marriage of Figaro, comes between Wednesday 11th and Saturday 14th March at Bris­tol Hippodrome. The following week, Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st March, they can be seen in the Mayflower Theatre in South­ampton and from Wednesday 15th to Saturday 18th April at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth.

Together, this trio makes up a mouth-watering prospect, offering opera lovers a spring programme to look forward to with relish.