WNO Carmen review


Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ***
An enthusiastic large audience greeted 'curtain up' with some scepticism at the sight of the curious set.
Cigarette factory . . . ?? More like a prison with the gun-toting armed guards, drab colours, worryingly unsteady massive moveable wire netting screens (building site leftovers perchance?) fronting drab open-fronted ceiling-height living spaces . . . dimly lit apartments maybe? Oh, and intermittent search lights. Sung in French, but with added neck-breaking English surtitles high above the stage.
Frenetic conductor Czech Tomas Hanus - three years with WNO – urged over-the-top efforts from the stage, notably male soloists delivering ear splitting top notes to a somewhat bludgeoned audience.
There are countless interpretations off this involved, exciting, three and a half hour Bizet opera, which from the very first performance in 1875 is a familiar favourite to this day.
However I longed for more colour, welcoming raucous children charging about making a huge fuss over an enormous highly-coloured glittering bull; a contrasting statement for the tiny bull fight scene depicted on a small television at the back of the drinking and flirting happenings in the true venue.
Virginie Verez as sexy Carmen gave a full-on performance to her rapt audience with spot on atmospheric high notes, although one suspected that there had not been enough rehearsal time to come to terms with this large venue. Death came to Carmen in truly dramatic style – possibly to all concerned. Well done singers, orchestra and kids!
Maggie Cotton

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