Carmen – The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Composer: Georges Bizet

Director and Librettist: Robin Norton-Hale

Reviewer: Nicole Evans

Once horrifying French audiences, Carmen certainly stands as one of the best known and most reproduced operas of all time and also one with the most recognisable compositions, whether you realise their origins or not. Recreating Bizet’s work arguably needs to be undertaken with great care to stay true to the original piece so OperaUpClose’s decision to revamp it in an attempt to make it more accessible to a wider audience could easily be received with some trepidation, however, it is a decision that really pays off.

Set in southern Spain, Carmen tells the tale of an ill-fated love affair with tragic consequences. Carmen, a well-renowned flirt, attracts the attentions of Jose, a soldier who is reluctant to step outside his ranks. After making her promise she will always be his, Jose serves times for letting Carmen escape punishment for her crimes but after being reunited once his conviction is spent, it is soon clear that the cards of fate have been well and truly dealt and that their once passionate relationship is doomed to failure.

Although the locations and story stay true to Bizet, Robin Norton-Hale’s new English versionadds a modern twist to the mix and the inclusion of costumes that, in the most part, resemble characters from Grease is the icing on the cake in terms of fast-forwarding the work to a more modern era. Carmen, donned in high-waisted leggings and low cut tops, is transformed from Spanish Senorita to 80s American Sweetheart and her fellow girlfriends, clad in Doc Martins and net skirts, are more like throwbacks from a grunge revival. On paper, this shouldn’t work, however, OperaUpClose really have it nailed and we can’t fail to fall in love with each character as their personalities unfold.

Of course, the talent on display has much to do with this and it is difficult to find fault with any of the cast’s performances either individually or as a collective.

Flora McIntosh as leading lady Carmen takes a while to warm to, but once she has you reeled in, you can’t help but fall in love with her. Switching from sexy and sassy to sensitive and vulnerable in an instant, her mannerisms, both when acting and singing, are too charming to ignore and you find yourself watching her even when she isn’t centre stage. Anthony Flaum, as Jose, proves to be much more of a hit when he is in his more aggressive persona and his strikingly confident vocal abilities shine through. Although he still does well portraying the meeker side of his personality, he is far stronger in the more dominant role. Emily-Jane Thomas and Melanie Sanders, as Frasquita and Mercedes, are as memorable apart as they are together, bouncing off each other perfectly and with attitude to boot, they sing their way into your affections and provide everything needed to make the connection with the characters and story unfolding.

The hardest working of all is the orchestra. The four-piece girl group, sat at the side of the stage under constant scrutiny, perfect the art of remaining vital to the performance, yet blending into the background of the set at the same time. The pianist- cum-conductor is staggering to watch as she multi-tasks directing, playing and page-turning and the score is utterly faultless throughout.

In short; this production is nothing short of spectacular. A modern and refreshing twist on one of opera’s classics this will appeal to everyone. A must-see!

Reviewed on 19 January 2016 | Image: Andreas Grieger

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