Thursday, October 6

Opera North: Carmen – Hull New Theatre

“Enjoy the screaming ab-dabs!”, were my opera-hating husband’s parting words as I headed for the Hull New Theatre on Thursday evening to watch Opera North’s production of Carmen.

I’ve seen several of this company’s operas, in the line of duty, but never Carmen, so, blocking out hubby’s words, I vowed to watch with an open mind.

Before “curtain up” an Opera North representative took to the stage to explain that there were Ukrainian and Russian cast members, who were all horrified by the current events in the Ukraine, and would we please be upstanding while the orchestra played the Ukrainian National Anthem.

It was a reflective and sombre start to what turned out to be a colourful and riotous production.

Set in 1830’s Seville, Spain, the opening scene featured drunken soldiers amusingly letting their hair down in Lillas Pastia’s club.

Then the club’s star dancer, Carmen (a wonderful performance by American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams), seductively performs, captivating all, especially soldier Don José (French tenor Sébastien Guèze, owner of an incredible singing voice).

Throwing a red flower for José to catch leads to tragic consequences for them both.

© Tristram Kenton

Trying to inject some sort of sense into the love-struck soldier is his home-town girlfriend Micaëla (Alison Langer), but her ex is so obsessed with Carmen, he is beyond listening to reason.

When Carmen is arrested for her part in a brawl at the club, José is tasked with handcuffing her and taking her to prison. Of course, she uses her wiles to persuade him to let her escape.

Back at the club, a new love interest catches Carmen’s eye in the shape of toreador Escamillo (Phillip Rhodes).

Missing his call back to barracks, José has no choice but to join Carmen and her band of law-breaking gypsy friends on the road.

By this time the poor man is a wreck and more pleading from a pregnant Micaëla has no effect. Carmen is bored with him, no longer loves him and just wants to be with bullfighter, Escamillo,

The vivacious minx is playing with fire – but is she also playing with her life? All I’ll say is a happy ending it ain’t.

Unlike my husband, I don’t hate opera, but it’s not my favourite stage event. However, I really enjoyed this production of Carmen.

Singing and speaking in French throughout, the very talented cast engulfed a well-attended theatre with countless moments of joy, passion, despair, anger, violence and comedy, on a well-lit stage setting that, because of its simplicity at times, cleverly didn’t detract from events.

And all the while the magnificent music of Bizet emanated from the orchestra pit, with well-known tunes such as Habanera and, my favourite, the Toreador Song.

Space prevents me from naming all the amazing singers and performers on stage that night (including four cute youngsters), but Williams, Rhodes, Guèze and Langer had voices of such outstanding quality, with actions to match, it was hard to drag my eyes away from them in order to read the English subtitles thoughtfully provided on side screens.

Well, if what I witnessed on Thursday night is my husband’s idea of “screaming ab-dabs” then I’m a fan. Bravo to all concerned.

Running on Saturday, April 2nd, 2022, 7pm. Tickets from £15. The same company performs Rigoletto on Friday, April 1st 2022. Call (01482) 300306 or visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk

Reviewer: Jackie Foottit

Reviewed: 31st March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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