It’s always a treat to hear the lilting melodies of Bizet’s Carmen. It was the first opera I performed in as a young child, running through the audience at the Royal Albert Hall to reach the great stage in the round. It is in fact the two sections with the kids chorus that provide the most drama and excitement in Carmen, and I have such fond memories of singing these great verses.
The ENO is currently reviving (for a second time) Calixto Bieito’s production, which was first performed here in 2012. The production is set in Franco’s Spain, a stark contrast to the 18th century setting it was written in. I found it somehow less believable to watch the leading characters navigate the dramatic storyline in this contemporary setting. Alfons Flores’ staging is simple, a few motifs heavily feature – the towering bull silhouette in the final act is perhaps the most memorable. Elsewhere the minimal props add colour and personality to the 1970s look – vintage cars and a battered phonebox are frequently used by the performers on stage.
The vocal performances were varied, I was particularly impressed by Sean Panikkar’s jealous and desperate rendition of Don José. Justina Gringyté showcases a self-assured Carmen, parading confidently across the stage, her vocals were powerful and pleasant to listen to, but I couldn’t fall in love with her, unlike the enamoured soldier’s on stage.
As always the ENO orchestra were on top form, led superbly by Valentina Peleggi. They ensured the favourite tunes soared while letting the singers shine elsewhere with subtle, sensitive playing.
Though this production feels well rehearsed and well suited to the ENO stage, I couldn’t help but miss the more traditional staging, which I feel lets you engage more fully with this French operatic masterpiece.
I was a guest of the ENO. Carmen continues until 27 February 2020, book tickets here.