OperaUpClose re-imagine Bizet's opera with in-yer-face results.
In her usual fashion, OperaUpClose director Robin Norton-Hale has found an alternate spin on one of the world’s most popular operas. Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, her programme note tells us, is not the tale of Don José, an upright soldier whose life is destroyed over his obsession with a femme fatale, but rather that of a free-spirited woman who suffers increasing levels of domestic violence from a jealous lover.
In her re-imagining, she’s unfortunately sacrificed rather vital details of the plot. But regardless of the fact that this occasionally makes the action a little incoherent, this out-and-out delivers on in-your-face verismo,
The woman at the heart of the opera, who follows only fickle love, is played and sung confidently by mezzo-soprano Flora McIntosh, who seems emotionally drained come curtain call. The domestic violence theme is compounded by the sturdily built Anthony Flaum, who portrays Don José as a slow-witted heavyweight, yet one possessing a powerful lyric tenor.
All-round good singing and clear diction highlight Norton-Hale’s intelligent English translation of the libretto. Most impressive are vivacious soprano Louisa Tee as Micaëla (José’s innocent hometown girlfriend) and smooth baritone Richard Immerglück as Escamillo, bull-fighter and rival for Carmen (though why he is dressed like a second-hand car salesman is unclear). They are matched by great character acting from supporting principals – Emily-Jane Thomas and Melanie Sanders, as factory girls Frasquita and Mercedes, make a great turn at getting drunk; while Lawrence Olsworth-Peter and Tom Stoddart convince as louche soldiers Remendado and Dancairo.
Harry Blake’s reduced score (played by pianist Berrak Dyer’s talented quartet) is perfect for this small venue, making the drama more intimate and allowing the ensemble singing to shine in its parts, rather than getting lost amid the glitz of an enormous set, orchestra and chorus.