Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review Carmen Welsh National Opera Bristol Hippodrome


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Welsh National Opera
Bristol Hippodrome
12/03/2020 at 19.15

Last night was the first time I’ve seen Carmen. Ever. The music, of course is famous and I’ve read much about it. The waxing lyrical of productions with sunny Spanish skies, the mountains, its flamboyance and ostentatious costumes.

Director Jo Davies has removed all of this, transporting it to a seventies Central American location. A semicircular four-story Brutalist tenement block dominates the stage. Leslie Travers’ set feels oppressive and hopeless, yet at the same time creates the perfect environment to observe human life.

It’s a class statement straight away. If like me, you live on a council estate with towering grey blocks dominating your environment, the odd brothel, kids running around on walk ways in the air and with the top of the buildings restricting a view out of its microcosm, then this setting makes complete sense.

The characters created within the WNO Chorus wandering the set amongst soldiers are nicely observed and the Children’s Chorus is excellent. They come together to create a real sense of community straight away. I wonder that many people coming to see this opera won’t recognise this life which is still ever present in Britain.

Whilst the curtain greeting the audience may feel deceiving with its warm, contradictory pallet, it’s also saying that nothing’s really changed. The heart of the story is still right there. The opera still feels hot and heady. This comes from Harry Ogg’s conducting which bursts with energy, the women’s performances and the sizzling choreography.

Carmen is really a 3.5 hour domestic with a shocking end. We all know it’s coming. Carmen knows it’s coming and whilst her manipulation at times is annoying, she is a strong character who knows who she is and refuses to change to suit men.

It’s a very current issue. According to the BBC, 173 people in the UK – mostly women – were killed in domestic violence related deaths during 2018. A criminologist described them as “invisible victims of knife crime”.

Carmen doesn’t fight the inevitability of her impending death because she knows this is the price she pays for  remaining true to herself. Come her death, she’s ditched the men’s clothes worn throughout with a dress much more Four Weddings and Funeral. It makes her more vulnerable, another comment on class. By leaving Don José and entering a relationship with celebrity bullfighter Escamillo, she’s gone up in status and this can’t really be allowed.

Julia Mintzer plays Carmen’s free spirit well. She’s sultry, dominant, determined and will ultimately be punished for embracing it. As a character, Carmen sets her stall out quite clearly from the start, which makes Peter Auty’s journey from aloofness, to wet weekend to controlling need to dominate and finally murder somewhat irritating.

An unfortunate technical issue drew attention away from Mintzer ‘s excellent Habanera when the main surtitle board went a bit disco.

The organic progression into Lillas Pastia’s bar towards the anticipated Toreador was some of the best scenes of the night. Movement and choreography from Denni Sayers and Carmine De Amicis kept the energy flowing throughout this huge crowd scene, as well as dance from Carmine De Amicis and Josie Sinnadurai.

Giorgio Caoduro delighted the audience with his hot Escamillo, a piece of casting that made the wandering eye of Carmen completely understandable. Elin Pritchard’s girl-next-door Micaela also completely won over the audience with her innocence, determination and bravery.

The WNO continue at The Bristol Hippodrome this evening with Les vêpres siciliennes:

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