In one sense, promoter Raymond Gubbay has hit the jackpot with this one. Never known to pass up an opportunity for spectacle, the impresario's annual opera in the round series has glammed up works ranging from Verdi's ‘Aida’ to Puccini's ‘Madama Butterfly’. And Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ – with its sizzling tale of sex and violence, along with its musical pyrotechnics – needs little help in that area. The result is a circus, complete with fire throwers, acrobats, stilt walkers and silly string. So why does this production, a joint effort with David Freeman, make so little impact?
Probably because the drama constantly comes second. Swamped by hordes of chorus members, irrelevant stage clutter and the sheer size of the hall, the singers struggle to be noticed, let alone convey the white hot passion contained in the libretto. Key events get lost in the crowd: blink and you'll miss the murder in the second act. Chunks of the text are smothered by the acoustics.
Worse, the whole thing lacks vitality. Amped to the eyeballs, the performers sing well but tend towards apathy – at times the acting is toe-curlingly wooden. Rachael Lloyd’s Carmen – in want of charisma – is dominated by a stage that she should be dominating. Elizabeth Atherton's Micaëla sings sweetly but leaves little mark on the memory. Noah Stewart does put in an impressive turn, however, with an assured, vocally muscular Don José.
Battling against the tyranny of the microphone, conductor Gareth Hancock draws some nuance out of the orchestral sound. But it must be hard work. Hannah Nepil