Ellen Kent's production of Carmen was a lavish spectacle, with extravagant costumes and scenery setting the stage for the Chisinau National Opera's performance of Bizet's passionate love tragedy.

As Carmen, Zarui Vardanean was engaging and alluring, her seductive charm steadily growing throughout the performance. Singing the Habanera, Vardanean was playful, but the brisk tempo prevented the characteristic lingering seductive phrases from being expressed fully. Vardanean was charming and teasing, but lacked the real sultry passion required.

Nicolae Busuioc acted very convincingly as the lovestruck Don José. Although his tenor voice was strong, he did not enhance his performance of the Flower Song by choosing to sing falsetto at the climax of this aria. However, his voice developed greater power and emotion during the final scene, when Don José’s jealousy and all-consuming love culminated in his crime of passion.

Soprano Ecaterina Danu sang with clarity and purity. She captured perfectly the innocence of the devastated Micaela, with her emphatic pleading contrasting with the cruel and heartless temptress Carmen.

Iurie Gisca shone as the celebrated bullfighter Escamillo, performing his Toreador Song with all the gusto and pride this aria demands. Again the pace was a little quick but Gisca gave a confident and rousing performance, emphasising the masculinity and bravery of the toreador.

The accompanying Chisinau National Philharmonic was technically precise and captured the Spanish flair of the music. The lively tempo set by conductor Nicolae Dohotaru was easily maintained by the orchestra, but did not always allow for the singers fully to express each phrase. On occasion, the chorus was rushed, which removed the clarity of diction and accuracy of timing.

Ellen Kent’s production was a lively, atmospheric and authentic interpretation of one of today’s most popular and enduring operas.