In the past few days alone there have been notable appearances from the tenor Ed Lyon in Garsington's Orfeo, from Australian-born Lauren Fagan in Glyndebourne's The Wreckers and from a rising star in Thomas Atkins in Opera Holland Park's Eugene Onegin.
Opera Holland Park has a gift for spotting rising talent – Fagan was an impressive OHP Violetta in La Traviata, in 2018 and 2021. And such is the affection for the company that artists at the top of their game readily return to this musical home from home.
A new production of Bizet’s Carmen at OHP has a very special star in soprano Alison Langer, as Micaëla, the jilted girlfriend of flirty Carmen’s latest passing fancy, Don José, and a number of other attractive performances. Langer has recently turned in notable performances at OHP in the wonderful La Traviata and Un Ballo in Maschera.
The City of London Sinfonia and Opera Holland Park Chorus, conducted by Lee Reynolds. Photo: Ali Wright
But wonderful singing isn’t just about soloists. Opera Holland Park Chorus is a hugely talented musical entity, and in many ways this new Carmen belongs to the other men, women and children who people the stage.
As tobacco workers, soldiers, gypsies, smugglers, the crowd amassing for a bullfight, they bring Seville to London W8, with the help of designer takis and his adaptable set made up of conspiratorial nooks, crannies and grills. Also sparkling, in the pit, is the City of London Sinfonia, ripping into Bizet’s rocket-launcher overture under the baton of Lee Reynolds.
This is Reynolds’s OHP debut, and a very exciting one too. With breakneck tempi, he draws from the orchestra colours so bright you need sunglasses. I cannot wait to see and hear more of this conductor. He has a busy schedule ahead, so keep your eyes peeled.
Alison Langer is outstanding as Micaëla. Photo: Ali Wright
Director Cecilia Stinton finds every opportunity to show women in control of their lives in an opera whose main character is ultimately a victim. Carmen and her fellow factory workers call the shots, and when she is under attack it is loyal friend Mercédès who throws herself bodily at her attacker.
Carmen, Seville’s great seductress, is sensuously sung by mezzo-soprano Kezia Bienek, with tenor Oliver Johnson as her lumpen new follower Don Jose. Young as he is, Thomas Mole understands the hauteur of toreador Escamillo, the rock star of the bull ring. There is strong singing too from fellow baritone Jacob Phillips as upright Zuniga.
Ellie Edmonds is the feisty Mercédès, with trained dancer Natasha Agarwal fetching as partner in petty crime Frasquita.
Thomas Mole impresses as toreador Escamillo. Photo: Ali Wright
This dynamic cast teems with high energy around the wide stage and runway that is OHP’s format at the moment, the orchestra placed between the two. But with Covid awareness the house is still running at 75 per cent capacity. Restored to 100 per cent maybe we shall see again the simple, single stage area that many designers have ingeniously turned into a workable performance space, despite its shallowness and exceptional width.
In the meantime, this businesslike Carmen, the second of this year’s five operas, is well-paced, with minimal dialogue, and as ever, OHP showcases voices to listen out for in the future too.
Carmen is sung in French with English surtitles. Further performances are on 4, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24 June
|What||Carmen, Opera Holland Park review|
|Where||Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||High Street Kensington (underground)|
02 Jun 22 – 24 Jun 22, Nine evening performances, and at 2PM on Sat 12 June
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|