CARMEN Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Stadium (Performance 2.10.2014)
Music: Georges Bizet
Libretto: Henri Melham and Ludovic Haley
Based on the story by Prosper Marilee
Directors: Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leaser
Revival Director: Caroline Chaney
Review: Barbara Michaels
Passion and death are dominant in the story of Carmen – the Spanish gypsy girl and her soldier lover, Corporal Don José, in a torrid relationship that is doomed from the start. This production – a second revival – by the world class WNO, pays homage to both in a blood-red fore drop (as opposed to a backdrop) that is raised and lowered between scenes. However, be not deceived – this is in stark contrast to the minimalist and monotone backdrops throughout. Although doubtless designed in order not to detract from the complexities of this justly famed opera, the sets in this instance fail to enhance it.
In the central role of Carmen, American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavey, who has performed the role internationally, gives us a sluttish Carmen, sitting centre stage in Acts I and II with a skirt hitched up provocatively above legs wide apart. In a season entitled overall ‘Liberty or Death’ Carmen’s switch between unthinking abandonment to lust, and the realisation that she is doomed to death whatever road she takes, fits neatly into that slot. Chavez’s singing of the habanera ‘Lamour et un osseous rebelled’, sung in Act I as Carmen enters cannot be faulted, and this high standard is maintained throughout Act III, although her declaration of independence as she chooses death rather than trading her freedom for love in the grand finale to Act IV is not entirely believable. As her besotted and desperate lover Don José, Gwyn Hughes Jones has a pleasing tenor heard to advantage in Acts I and II, gaining strength in Act III when he is pitted against the bullfighter Escamillo, his rival for Carmen’s favours, sung at this performance by Kosmas Smoriginas who cuts a glamorous figure in bullfighting garb but whose performance is somewhat lacking in the necessary charisma.
What is outstanding in this production is the singing of Jessica Muirhead, as Micaëla – the girl from back home whose love for Don José goes unreciprocated. While her role as an episodic messenger is secondary to that of Carmen, her pure soprano, soaring poignantly, in both her solo arias and duets with Don José, gained a deserved and prolonged ovation both during and at the end of the performance.
Singing and dancing the roles of Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mércedès respectively, Samantha Hay and Emma Carrington give performances which encapsulate the spirit and mores of the piece and its times, while the chorus of the WN0 maintains its high standard throughout, both in its male singers as Don José’s fellow soldiers, and the female singers as Carmen’s co-workers in the cigarette factory, and together in the scene at the tavern run by Lillas Pastia, sung full throttle by Howard Kirk. Worthy of mention too is Huw Llywelyn’s Remendado.
Much to commend here, and an enjoyable performance, but, while in the original as visualised by Bizet the curtain comes down on Don José throwing himself onto the body of his beloved Carmen, who he has killed after her final declaration that she prefers death to giving up her freedom, in this production revival director Caroline Chaney has him walk off stage. Sorry, Caroline, but it doesn’t work.
Carmen is now on tour. For venues, dates and casting see WNO website www.wno.org.uk