Carmen is stuffed full of well-known arias and melodies, or as one audience member put it as she left the theatre, “I was surprised by how many songs I already knew.” From the Toreador’s song to the Habanera and the Seguidilla the music is easily recognisable by most people even if they have never been to an opera.
This boisterous production by Opera North updated events from 19th century Sevilla to a border town in the late 1950s early 1960s. This was a clever idea as this was a time of rebellion, of counter-culture, where young people wanted to be free and do their own thing. To live and love on their own terms.
For the character of Carmen love is transitory. She is open and honest in saying that she falls in and out of love with ease. She just wants freedom and is unconcerned with her destiny. Not for her is a world of convention and duty. She wants excitement and prefers to be on the open road, roaming free.
Chrystal E. Williams brought out that almost primal desire for independence in her performance. She was able to move from the entrancing seductress to a woman arguing passionately for her own freedom with ease. It seems like a contradiction, but her voice was masterful and controlled yet there was also a ferocious, almost feral, quality to it at times.
Don José, who falls in love with her, is caught between his duty as a soldier and his overwhelming desire for this magical woman. He is forced to make a choice, but he doesn’t really understand what freedom means for her. As a conventional man he wants her to be his, but she just wants to be free.
Demonstrating wonderful power and control Sébastien Guèze suitably expressed the emotional turmoil felt by the conflicted Don José. I think he is the best tenor I have seen live, and he was the standout singer. His voice was thunderous with an admirable passion and sensitivity. It was really quite extraordinary.
Gyula Nagy as Escamillo, the Toreador, had wonderful fun as a latter-day Elvis singing the Toreador’s song. With all the charisma required for a hero of the bull ring he had a great time swinging round a microphone, skipping over it as he sang.
Alison Langer played Micaela, the woman who is in love with Don José and betrothed to him. Her voice was tender but when needed it had a muscular quality that was compelling and showed that the character was as brave and strong in her own way as Carmen.
It was directed with imagination and verve by Edward Dick and the chorus were spectacular. Throughout he brought a lightness of touch with plenty of amusing moments to nicely counterpoint the scenes of heavy drama.
I would definitely recommend it and it is now on tour and will be at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle and the Hull New Theatre. Check the Opera North website for details. https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/carmen-21-22/
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 10th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★