Monday, April 22

Carmen – Liverpool Empire

Director and Producer Ellen Kent’s Carmen is carnal, captivating, and carefree in equal measure and with the close camaraderie of the company clear to see on stage, it is a joy to behold.

Set in early 19th Century Seville, Carmen tells the story of the downfall of Don José (Davit Sumbadze) a naïve corporal who falls head over heels in love with Carmen (Natalia Matveeva), a seductive, free-spirited gypsy girl. The infatuated Don José abandons his childhood sweetheart, Micaela (Elena Dee), and neglects his military duties much to the annoyance of his senior officer Zuniga (Valeriu Cojocaru), only to lose the fickle Carmen to the glamorous toreador Escamillio (Iurie Gisca).

Sung in its original French, with English surtitles provided by Victoria Bazalinchuk, the unfolding action on stage was easy to follow with some fine support from Stagecoach Wirral. Whilst the focus is naturally on the principals, the supporting cast were superb, with Anastasiia Blokha and Marharyta Bohachova’s entertaining performances as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes matched delightfully in turn by Vitalii Cebotari and Nicolae Cebanu’s portrayal of the smugglers Dancairo and Remendado, with the musical numbers including Matveeva particularly memorable.

I enjoyed Cojocaru’s clever balancing of officiousness and bumbling drunk in his portrayal of Zuniga – so much harder to do than he made it look – and I have to make special mention for the female chorus whose lively and excellently choreographed routines were well sung and full of energy, with their many moments of comic humour providing the necessary response and release to the ever-building tension.

Dee was suitably earnest as the girl next door with her strong vocal adding texture to her impassioned pleas that only fall upon deaf ears, whilst Gisca’s powerful presence stood out through his statuesque command of both stage and song with some added swagger for good measure.

Sumbadze’s towering presence added weight to his upstanding Catholic persona at the start which soon begins to tumble as he is drawn deeper into Carmen’s cleverly crafted web from which there can be no escape, with his subsequent breakdown believable and his powering finale with Matveeva exquisite as the hunter becomes the hunted in a bullfight to the bitter end.

Matveeva was outstanding as the sensual and sultry femme fatale who beguiles all with her mesmerising seguidilla, making every boyhood dream almost a reality until her dangerous siren destroys any hope. Her movement, acting, and command of the stage were superb and the perfect complement to the lyric which, sang beautifully throughout, even had me hooked.

The adaptable set and staging embodied the architecture of Seville with its Roman and Moorish influences, and the clever use of colour through costume and lighting continuously hinting at the underlying heat of the location and action before turning to reflect the changing mood in a rich and erotic undertone that combined perfectly with the accompaniment from the Orchestra of the Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Theatre, conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, which, lively and brooding throughout, also matched the deepening intensity of the unfolding drama as it hurtled towards its inevitable conclusion.

Carmen is one of three productions touring throughout the UK and Ireland with full details available at www.ellenkent.com  The tour is dedicated to the memory of Sam Shrouder, Ellen’s dear friend and supporter who helped to make much of this possible.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 13th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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