Longborough Playground Opera Carmen review


Longborough Playground Opera at Temple Grafton School

One of the most heartening experiences in my lifetime of involvement with music education as well as reviewing came at Temple Grafton primary school on June 14, when Playground Opera, the educational offshoot of the world-renowned Longborough Festival Opera, brought this brilliantly-adapted paring-down of Bizet's Carmen which it is currently touring around the Cotswolds.
Brainchild of Maria Jagusz and Jessica May, the concept is totally successful, engaging the children as performers as well as audience participators (they had all been so well-prepared, thanks to the splendid teachers' packs – and the splendid teachers!). Don Jose remains the same, somewhat homely soldier, besotted with Carmen (now more of a zany fortune-teller), and rivalled by Escamillo, here a glamorous super-chef rather than a bullfighter.
Much of the action is pantomimic, the audience encouraged to support their favourite characters, but there are moments of great pathos, too, when the children sat entranced. The three characters enchanted us all: Marienella Phillipps as a saucy and sassy Carmen, Seamus Begg as a totally engaging Don Jose, Matthew Siveter first appearing as a Hilda Ogden-type shrew of a Dame, and then swaggering as Escamillo.
The set was resourceful and simple, the Seville backdrop the creation of the children themselves, and there were many other visual delights. And the score was colourfully delivered by Milos Milivojevic's resourceful accordion and Jessica's May bouncy keyboard.
This was a wonderful, heartwarming afternoon, and it gave me great hopes for the next generation of opera-goers.
Christopher Morley

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