If you have been at any London tube station in recent weeks, you will most likely have seen an eye-catching advert of a blonde beauty in a sparkling pink dress on the hood of a car. No, this was not announcing a new women’s fragrance or hair colour. It is in fact the poster for the English National Opera’s latest production of Carmen. The blonde poster girl is Justyna Gringyte, who plays the title role and her eye-catching photo is an introduction to this unusual, very successful take on Bizet’s classic.

It would be difficult to find a single member of the packed opening night audience who did not know the rousing overture that starts Carmen and so there was an air of familiarity as the orchestra played the famous music and the audience waited for the Coliseum curtains to rise. This familiarity was abruptly stopped as the curtains rose to reveal a bare, dusty set decorated by only a flagpole, a telephone box and a row of barely visible, eerily placed soldiers. Calixto Bieto, opera director extraordinaire, hailed as the ‘Quentin Tarantino of the opera world’, has a clear vision with this production. Premiered in 2012, Bieto’s Carmen steers clear from Spanish stereotypes of castanets and flamenco dresses (although flamenco dresses do make a comic appearance in a plan to swindle some customs officers) and instead focuses on the seductive yet seedy undertones to the libretto. Only a Spanish flag, and the famous Osborne Bull silhouette gives the production a geographic placement.

As is the case with most famous operatic productions, traditional interpretations of the libretto don’t quite cut it anymore. Though Bizet’s Carmen shocked the audience when it was first premiered, today’s audience has become immune to that same kind of scandal. This production has kept up with the times in terms of creating that same kind of shock by including full (although not always fully explained) nudity as well as some darker undertones of child grooming and abuse. Because of these, sadly, very contemporary discomforts of modern society, the audience was suitably unsettled as the libretto is meant to make one feel.

The chorus shone both as excitable fans of the bullfight and as surly, perverted guards. The acting in this production was the best I’ve seen with the ENO and the singing was very commendable indeed. Justina Grigynte, the blonde bombshell Carmen thrived in her role as a flirtatious and confused woman caught between multiple men and although there were some slight diction difficulties which made the audience somewhat dependent on the surtitles, the tone and musicality of her singing matched her acting skills. Eric Cutler performed stunningly as a complex Don José who sang beautifully with my personal favourite, Eleanor Dennis as Micaëla.

This is a breath of fresh, yet seedy, air into a total opera classic. The excellent singing and exhilarating story telling is reason enough to go, but, as an added bonus, you also get to see how they fit six (yes, six) cars onto the Coliseum stage at the beginning of the third act. This is not a production to miss – catch it either at the Coliseum or streamed live at a cinema near you.

Carmen continues until Friday 3 July, book here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.


The run of consistently excellent productions from the ENO hit a slight bump in the road last week with the opening night of Peter Konwitschny’s La Traviata. Perhaps this more negative reaction is because of the proximity of the opera to the premiere of the outstanding Meistersingers production a few days earlier. The set was very sparse, verging on excessively minimal; a lone chair and some scarlet drapes set the scene for what is usually a lavish and luxurious backdrop appropriate to courtesans and upper class socialites. The chorus, however, was much more engaging. They were busy, buzzing and bustling all over the stage underscoring Konwitschny’s vision of Violetta being the only ‘real person’ and her surrounding company being wired, cavorting ‘city folk’ who are constantly searching for new dramatics. The most creatively choreographed scene was the gambling scene in which the chorus paced back and forth flicking cards in a nonchalant manner – once again reiterating the blasé and indifferent nature of the upper classes of the time. Verdi’s music was as rousing as ever under the baton of Roland Böer with only a few timing snags. The stand out voices were Elizabeth Zharoff, who seemed to come into her own as the opera progressed, and Anthony Michaels- Moore who sang Germont’s role. As with many Traviata performances, the famous ‘Drinking Song’ was performed with great enthusiasm and gusto.

There were moments of awkwardness in the production – most obviously the decision – reminiscent of pantomime – for members of the cast to break the fourth wall by climbing awkwardly over the front row of the audience. As well as this, the translation could have been more artfully done – but perhaps this was just noticeable because of the familiarity of the much-loved Italian libretto.

Though the production was perhaps too modern and slightly undeveloped for such a classic and famously luxurious and musically lush opera, nothing could detract from the beauty of Verdi’s music. Though the ENO have been facing difficulties in recent weeks, their productions are still deserving of the company’s high reputation. La Traviata was less polished than previous productions in recent weeks, but nonetheless is still a showcase of excellent operatic singing talent.

La Traviata continues until 13 March, more information and book here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

As I am becoming a frequent attendee of the ENO, I am starting to notice patterns in their productions – starting with the consistently brilliant interpretations of opera director extraordinaire, Richard Jones. In his 25th year with the company, Jones has brought to the coliseum stage a production worthy of the quarter of a century celebration. Being a relatively naïve Wagner listener, having only been to one other opera of the composer, I was relieved to be watching the Mastersingers of Nuremburg in English, a trademark feature of all ENO operatic productions. The fact that the translation is one of immense artistry and delicacy merely helped make the production a memorable and beautiful gem in the ENO 2015 programme.

Visually, the production is engaging and enchanting. From the beginning of the rousing overture, the audience is presented with a game of ‘who’s who’ in the form of the front cloth; it is covered in faces of German cultural figures from Handel to Freud which firmly establishes Wagner’s ideologies of culture as the basis of the opera rather than the less fortunate reputation that the opera has acquired of extreme nationalism. As the overture comes to an end, the curtain rises to show a large ensemble – one of the largest I’ve seen on the Coliseum stage – in the midst of a church service. The 90 strong chorus are magnificently accompanied by the steadfast ENO orchestra under the sensitive and musically fluid baton of musical director Edward Garner. It is in this first scene that the audience is introduced to the blossoming romance that will keep the momentum of the opera and the storyline going.

The enormous scale of the production would deter many able and talented singers; however, every one of the 17 main singing parts were performed with such gusto and aplomb that the heavy demands of this lengthy opera seemed irrelevant to them. Hans Sachs is one of Wagner’s most developed and multi-dimensional characters. Often, performers fail to convey the depth of this character, but Iain Peterson’s interpretation was nothing short of faultless. His body language, acting and voice coalesced so well that from the second he entered the opera (running late to the mastersingers meeting), his presence dominated the stage. The ‘love-to-hate’ character, Beckmesser, was masterfully performed by Andrew Shore who played more on the insecure rather than outright malicious features of the character. Shore infused light comedy into the role, a welcomed feature for such a thematically gigantic opera. Having said that, Mastersingers is, on the whole, not a very heavy opera with many comedic parts and this was excellently carried out by the ENO company.

This production provided many moments that justify a prominent place for it in The ENO’s history, however, for me, the crowning glory was the beautifully choreographed quintet in the 3rd act. The two pairs of lovers, Magdalene (Madeleine Shaw) and David (Nicky Spence) and Walther (Gwyn Hughes Jones) and Eva (Rachel Nicholls), and Hans Sachs sing the enchanting song in his exquisitely busy cobblers workshop and create something of a religious experience for themselves and the audience. The song is meant to act as a ‘baptism’ for the stunning prize song that Walther has created – the piece of paper is hoisted into the air, much like a symbol of the holy spirit and the lighting is done in such a way that the paper seems to glow. This, paired with the breathtaking execution of the quintet was an incredibly moving moment in the already affecting opera.

Do not let the nearly six-hour running time deter you – this is a production worth making the time for. It is an art lover’s masterpiece and justifies the ‘noble German art’ of which Hans Sachs sings at the end, as a vibrant component of today’s performing arts repertoire.

Show continues until 10 March, more information and book here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.