Carmen, by the Welsh National Opera, at Birmingham Hippodrome
This production of Carmen proves that less can mean more. It dispenses with the picture-postcard Spanish flummery of arena productions, no prancing horses and flamenco dancers, and focuses on the music – and what music!
From the swift opening bars of the overture conductor Frédéric Chaslin presents the score as lithe, supple and light on its feet, with crisp and alert playing from the orchestra.
Shorn of its recitatives, and given with its original spoken dialogue, the dramatic pace is quicker and characters more sharply etched but with sufficient colour provided by the excellent and versatile WNO chorus.
It was a joy to hear a Carmen and Don José who have ideal voices for the parts. Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon is no camp vamp gypsy but a passionate woman with her own idiosyncratic code of honour whose progress from a playfully dangerous coquette in the Habanera to tragic heroine was utterly convincing.
Gwyn Hughes Jones is a lyric tenor with the required extra vocal heft whose flower aria, passionate yet delicate, was the highlight of the evening. Sarah-Jane Davies’ Micaëla was affecting and her duet with Jose sensitively sung. David Soar’s virile Escamillo and Joanne Boag’s bright-as-a-button Frasquita gave sterling support.