All done? Good. Now, we all know about Carmen, the flirty tobacco factory hand. If you love her, she doesn't love you; if you don't love her, well, just watch out... And in Bizet's opera Carmen, she's up to her amorous tricks, but there's a whole hoopla of other things going on: bullfights, gypsy revels, endless dialogue, scene-stealing children. It is all rather spectacular, but there are other ways of treating this intense story of love won, lost, found and risked.
In Paris in 1981, the director Peter Brook and team created a version of Bizet's grand opera for only four singers and half the length. The result is a piece of musical theatre giddying in the speed of its unfolding, with clear characters and relationships. It is this version that the Royal Opera stages at Wilton's Music Hall (You can catch the "main" Carmen at Covent Garden in the spring).
Gerard Jones's production takes full advantage of Wilton's vaudeville tradition with shimmer curtains, a glitter ball, razzle-dazzle lighting by Joshua Pharo and most crucially a band on stage: the nifty Southbank Sinfonia under meticulous James Hendry, drawing an infinity of sounds from Marius Constant's adapted score. In this nightclub atmosphere, Carmen observes the innocent Micaela in her pink pussycat jumper with her stuffy fiancé Don José, and picks him off like a hunting lioness spotting a weak member of the herd.
You know it's a bad match from the moment she proffers him her panties and he follows up with a balloon. One should note that in the original, Carmen tenders a flower and so this knicker twist falls slightly flat when Don José refers later to the "wilting" gift; a song about her drooping drawers being no way to win a woman's heart. Very music hall, maybe, but this is supposed to be a serious part of the narrative.
That quibble apart, the passion, power and drive of this intense production is breathtaking, with a performance in the title role by Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina to rival any on the musical stages of London. Wonderfully sung, dazzlingly danced and acted, she is unflinching in her command of one of the best known operatic roles. Astonishingly, she is only 21 years old. Catch her while you can: she is going places fast.
Fortunately, London will be Akhmetshina's home for another two years, as she takes part in the Royal Opera House's prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists scheme. 'Young' is slightly misleading – many of these singers are well into their careers already. Hungarian-born Gyula Nagy, who has several roles in the main house this season, stars here as the vain, glamorous Escamillo. He is hilarious in Prince purple when out of the bullring, then deliciously camp in his spray-on toreador kit. In this important role he lets rip with that big baritone voice and huge personality.
American soprano Francesca Chiejina as naive Micaela has a rich and lovely voice that brought the house down on the first night, and tenor Thomas Atkins as Don José is suitably unworldly and unguarded (despite understandable tension warping his intonation from time to time on this occasion).
This is the second production at Wilton's by the very talented director Gerard Jones, who promised a complete contrast to a bloody Oreste last year. He fulfils that promise with an evening of psychological insight, drama, glamour and pure knockabout comedy. With the simplest devices – an orange seductively peeled by Carmen, the occasional use of an actor/dancer to people the streets – La Tragédie de Carmen rapidly spirals up to the heights of a must-see event.
Have a great time.
|What||La Tragédie de Carmen review , Wilton's Music Hall|
|Where||Wilton's Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Tower Hill (underground)|
03 Nov 17 – 14 Nov 17, 7:30 PM – 9:15 PM
|Price||£15 - £30|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|