Tuesday, May 28

Ellen Kent: Carmen – Floral Pavilion

Carmen is a four-act opera by French composer Georges Bizet, first performed in Paris on 3rd March 1875 with audiences initially objecting to the wild and immoral behaviour on view. Sadly, Bizet’s sudden death in June meant he did not get to see its resounding success in Vienna later that year and its subsequent international acclaim. It is now one of the most popular and frequently performed operas.

Set in Seville, Spain around 1820, Carmen tells the story of the downfall of Don José (Sorin Lupu) a naïve corporal who falls head over heels in love with Carmen (Katerina Timbaliuk), a seductive, free-spirited gypsy girl. The infatuated Don José abandons his childhood sweetheart, Micaela (Alyona Kistenyova), 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 (Petru Racovita).

Sung in its original French, English surtitles were also provided and though on occasion they were unclear, the unfolding drama on stage was easy to follow as it combined perfectly with the accompaniment from the Orchestra of the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, which in turn was lively and brooding, reflecting the deepening intensity of the piece as it hurtles towards its inevitable end.

Mezzo-soprano Timbaliuk was the perfect femme fatale, sultry and sensual at every turn, as she beguiles the initially disinterested Don José with her mesmerising seguidilla. which hints at the danger to come, before her carefree character later expresses her disdain for him with accomplished singing throughout.

On the other hand, soprano Kistenyova’s Michaela was the epitome of the sweet girl next door, and her entrancing performance beautifully captured the innocence of a young girl wanting to love and be loved as her beautiful voice plucked at our very heartstrings.

Tenor Lupu was a slow starter but soon captured the conflicting emotions of a man being torn from his Catholic purity into Carmen’s carefully crafted web from which there can be no escape, delivering a powerful finale that brought his passion to a head.

Baritone Racovita had a nervous start, initially out of synch with the orchestra, although this soon gave way to a powerful voice in a performance which showed a more human side to the toreador instead of the usual bravado and swagger.

I enjoyed Cojocaru’s clever balancing of officiousness and humour in his portrayal of Zuniga, and a special mention to Anastasiia Blokha and Liudmila Revutscaia for their entertaining performances as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes, who link up delightfully with the smugglers Dancairo and Remendado, superbly portrayed in turn by Vitalii Cebotari and Ruslan Pacatovici.

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 hinted at the turning mood and moments within the opera to provide a rich and at times erotic undertone.

Support tonight was provided by Stagecoach Theatre Arts Wirral and in conjunction with the main cast we were treated to some wonderfully choreographed routines under the stewardship of Victor Donos, to round off an excellent production from celebrated producer Ellen Kent who also directs.

Carmen is touring throughout the UK and Ireland alongside Madama Butterfly and Tosca as part of Senbla, by arrangement with Opera International, Presents an Ellen Kent Production. Further details available at www.senbla.com and www.ellenkent.com

The Floral Pavilion is the only remaining theatrical beacon in New Brighton and provides an intimate space from which you can immerse yourself in its productions https://www.floralpavilion.com/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 5th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★