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Welsh National Opera – Carmen
Wales Millennium Centre
Saturday 21st September 2019

A brand new production of Carmen is typical for today’s major opera companies. Though a huge turkey on its premier, it has become one of the most popular and beloved of all opera. This critic might not always be keen to sit through an entire production, finding more joy in just the famous bits that we all know and love.

Jo Davies staging might hark back to the revolutions seen in Latin America or hark back to Spain’s fraught history. It’s clear to see it’s an update with TV sets, fashionable clothing and guns. To be fair, its not a very exciting production, a grungy block of flats made to look similar to the bull ring that would predominate later in the story. Those seeking a traditional production might find the dance numbers maintain some elements of Spanish culture. The story, though lacking in pace and intrigue is barely maintained through this not so bold version. The ending is more brutal then I’ve seen before, even if you know what happens, a good point in my eyes.

The singing here is mixed. Virginie Verrez is Carmen, who does a decent take on the role, with a voice that is of worth, but doesn’t turn heads. Dimitri Pittas as Don José left me uncertain. Many of the high notes were pushed, forced into an plain of effort for the audience. It’s a fair effort, but it needs work. One of main flaws in Carmen are that both these lead characters are not pleasant people. This is where Anita Watson as Micaëla comes in and won hearts as the meek supporting role.

Bizet here writes some lush much for this role, her aria in the third act is my true highlight of the whole evening. It might be not a rounded role, but Watson bring sincerity to the part, knowing she can never really win José, instead pleading with him to come home to see his dying mother. The great baritone role of Escamillo is here perfectly captured by Phillip Rhodes, dashing in stage presence and firm footed in voice. His cries over Carmen at the end were and unexpected way to wrap up as well.

The chorus and orchestra of WNO, under Tomáš Hanus always deliver. Here making the steamy Spanish moods extra special with their bravado execution.

Rating: 3 stars

Carmen continues at WMC till then on tour. Also performed this season with WNO is Rigoletto and The Cunning Little Vixen.

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

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