S&H Opera Review

BIZET Carmen Welsh National Opera at Oxford, 21 October 00

WNO revived their 1997 production of Carmen for the company's autumn 2000 tour. Conducted by Julian Smith, the orchestral score sounded splendid heard in its entirety and in proper context. Its freshness and originality are compromised by constant exposure to extracts and arrangements of the music. It also gained from the superb acoustics of Oxford's Apollo Theatre, which could equally encompass the rousing climaxes and the more delicate music, in which solo winds are prominent. The spoken dialogue was given in natural speech and the sur-titles were helpful, not distracting attention.

The acclaimed Caurier/Leiser production was given under the care of Robin Tebbutt; I am not in a position to know how it has changed over the years. Perhaps it is impossible to make everything convincing in this mixture of drama and popular entertainment? The relationship between the soldiery and the factory girls was ambiguous and the source of authority to arrest Carmen leading Don José's imprisonment for her escape dubious?

José was the central figure in this representation, more than Carmen herself, and the predicament of this mother's boy out of his depth was depicted by John Hudson with power and mellifluous voice, the tragic conclusion a foregone certainty. Micaela (Geraldine McGreevy), buttoned up to the neck, was a certain loser from her first appearance, and her singing was under-powered in the lower registers and squally higher up. Escamillo (Robert Howard) was presented effectively low key, leather over-coated upon arriving at the tavern; he sang well, though the scene of his confrontation with José in the mountain retreat was less convincingly portrayed.

Beth Clayton was not so dominant and charismatic a Carmen as some would wish; I wondered if this portrayal was deliberate, and I found her convincing. Not a great voice, but well managed, and she consistently showed us a perplexed, vulnerable and disturbed woman who could not sustain relationships and fatalistically embraced her doom. The supporting cast was strong, the chorus (adults and children) made the most of their important part in the scheme, and it added up to a good Night at the Opera.

Carmen with Escamillo
(photo Brian Tarr)

Peter Grahame Woolf

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