Carmen, Mid Wales Opera at Yeovil Octagon

CarmenTHINK of Bizet’s Carmen and you think of sultry heat, intense colour and tangible passion … or at least, I do.

So Jonathan Miller’s touring production for Mid-Wales opera comes as a bit of a surprise, on many levels. Of course the timeless story can be set in all sorts of periods, and here in Nicky Shaw’s gloomy but cleverly-lit (by Declan Randall) setting, it’s Civil War time.

Nicholas Cleobury conducted the excellent orchestra with Australian mezzo-soprano Helen Sherman in the title role in the new production which features a new performing version by Stephen McNeff, in English and using Rory Bremner’s 2001 translation.

The official company blurb ends with: “Don José kills Carmen in one of the most dramatic moments in stage history.”  Well, no it isn’t, as the “moment” is off stage, followed by a slow slouch by José under arrest to the curtain.

There is a deal of spoken dialogue, including Carmen’s own interjection of “whatever” to indicate the end of love. Mmmm. And, although I arrived late in the first act, I could not discern any spark of passion or connection between Carmen and her love-lorn soldier.

There was particular local interest in the Yeovil performance as Castle Cary’s Marta Fontanals-Simmons was singing the role of Mercedes.

Along with most of the packed audience at the Octagon, I thought the singing was often beautiful and dramatic, but there were cringe-making moments in both dialogue and action (how come “heavy” boxes of weaponry and contraband could be hefted so easily?). Perhaps the heat was supposed to be indicated by the fact that no-one on stage seemed to have any energy.

Comparisons might be odious, but having seen a stunning small scale pro-am production of the same work by Winterbourne Opera at Salisbury Cattle Market last year, I’m afraid the celebrated Miller’s production was sadly lacking in the raucousness and passion demanded by the story.


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