Carmen * * *
Welsh National Opera
at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Review by David Hart
When so many directors seem intent on presenting operas in "new" and "challenging" ways it’s refreshing to come across one that has not been tinkered with.
Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 1997 version of Carmen is certainly welcome for its lack of pretension.
Played on an almost empty stage with hardly any props – chairs, tables, a camp fire and bowls of oranges are all we see – this is a frippery-free, minimal Carmen, stripped to the basics in order to reveal bare emotion.
At least that’s the intention. Wednesday’s performance was actually a rather slow burner, simmering gently for much of its length before erupting dramatically towards the end.
Sara Fulgoni’s non-dancing Carmen showed more petulance than passion, although she sang well, even when required to deliver the Habanera and Seguidilla seated (and on her back for part of the Chanson Boheme – most odd). Rafael Rojas glowered suitably as Don Jose and his voice, a bit dry early on, improved greatly by the time he reached the Flower Song.
As the flamboyant Escamillo Stephen Gadd didn’t really strut enough, and his Toreador’s Song, like several of the big numbers in this integrated ensemble production, was sung almost nonchalantly. Minor characters took their share of vocal honours, with Elizabeth Atherton’s touching Micaela (her Act 3 aria was a gem) and David Stout’s impressively sonorous Dancaire getting more than some.
Undoubted stars of the evening were conductor Micha Klauza and the WNO Orchestra, who revealed all the transparency and detail of Bizet’s score, especially in the very snappy Prelude and beautifully played Entr’actes.