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Carmen steps out of character in a new Royal Opera House staging of Bizet’s much-loved opera

16 February, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Anna Goryachova, centre, and the cast of Carmen. PHOTO: Bill Cooper

Bizet’s Carmen without the castanets and without those exciting dancing Gypsies? Well, that’s just for starters in Australian director Barrie Kosky’s new staging at the Royal Opera House of the world’s most popular opera.

Gone are the cigarette factory, the café and mountain scenes. Instead, virtually all the action takes place on one giant bank of two dozen or so steps as you have in a bull-ring. These occupy most of the stage leaving barely a third for the opera’s action to develop.

Soloists, chorus and horribly energetic dancers endlessly climb and run up and down the steps – a bit like the Grand Old Duke of York’s 10,000 men. It’s great fun to begin with. But it begins to pall so that, towards the end of the three-hour evening, you wish they’d just sit down – but they can’t do that as there aren’t any props!

Those steps aren’t the only novelty in Kosky’s fun-packed production. Entertainingly, each scene is introduced by way of a tongue-in-cheek commentary over the ROH loudspeaker system. Then there are wacky costumes, Carmen appearing in white shirt and black trousers, tight-fitting pink tunic and a gorilla suit.

All this giggle-making stuff presents a major difficulty for the singers: how to portray their characters seriously. A bit like trying to recite a Wordsworth sonnet against the backdrop of a Monty Python sequence, one might say.

Still, Russian mezzo Anna Goryachova makes a good Carmen, quite excellent at times until her great death scene turns into a damp squib due to the production’s failings. Other soloists are more than adequate and Czech conductor Jacub Hrusa delivers Bizet’s score in spades.

But the undoubted stars of the evening are the chorus and energetic dancers, racing up and down those steps.

• Carmen is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until March 16. 020 7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk

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