Music: Georges Bizet
Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Reviewer: Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
The Welsh National Opera arrives at Southampton’s Mayflower with a trio of operas under the title “Liberty or Death” that includes Rossini’s William Tell and Moses in Egypt plus the 1997 production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. It was the latter that was on show last night.
Presented with a swirl of muted colour the opening scene in Carmen immediately places the audience outside the tobacco factory where the women are about to take a break. In front of the stained walls of the tobacco factory soldiers wait impatiently outside so they can tease the women workers, but they are even more impatient to see Carmen (Kirsten Chavez) and no one is more impatient than the lieutenant Zuninga (Aiden Smith) who is clearly attracted to her. Causing a rumpus and a fight with another female worker Carmen is arrested by the lieutenant and despite being guarded by Don Jose (Gwyn Hughes Jones) he lets her escape and as such is imprisoned. His relationship with Carmen and Micaele (Jessica Muirhead) is problematic to say the least; torn between the two, this is a situation that is clearly going to end badly.
Kirsten Chavez gives a solid performance as Carmen with a beautiful voice, feisty attitude but somewhat lacking in the sensuality expected of the rôle; a strong voice slightly marred by a weaker performance. This was in stark contrast to Emma Carrington (Mercedes) and Samantha Hay (Frasquita) who despite relatively minor rôles have voices that soar, something evident in the ‘Card Trio’ making it a highlight of the show. The female star of the evening is Jessica Muirhead whose singing and acting are sublime. Her relationship with Don Jose is heartfelt but slightly awkward at times and his attitude towards her in comparison to Carmen is heart breaking.
Carmen is an opera that is well known by many, with easily recognisable songs, something that is evident in the reaction of the audience, particularly when Escamillo (Kostas Smoriginas) arrives and sings “Votre Toast” more commonly recognised as the Toreador song. Kostas strutted and paced across the stage with much vigour and his voice was well suited to the rôle, however at times the orchestra drowned him in his lower range; this was a real shame as he gave a wonderful rendition.
The Welsh National Opera have a strong tradition of producing good operas and out of the three in this offering Carmen is the one most that most will recognise. If you have not been to an opera before then this is well worthy of a visit; with tunes that most will recognise and a cast that are enthusiastic and ebullient.
Runs at Mayflower Southampton until 27th November 2014| PhotoJeni Clegg