Arts Review: Carmen

Dir. Benjamin Davis, Theatre Royal, 7th – 17th October 2015

Scottish Opera has chosen to open their new season with this lively classic, directed by Benjamin Davis, featuring some of the most iconic musical pieces in classical music.  The eponymous character of Carmen encounters an army officer Don José, who falls madly in love with her. He is enchanted by her as if she is an exotic creature and joins her group of travelling gypsies, but after a while she grows bored of him and falls in love with a bull fighter named Escamillo.  

On its release in 1875, this independent lead woman who is sexually liberated seemed to audiences like a seductress, the ‘ruiner’ of Don José.  However, this production shows that Carmen is simply being true to herself and that love is a fickle thing, as she sings “All at once it arrives and lingers, for just how long can’t be foretold.  Then it deftly slips through your fingers, for love’s a thing that can’t be foretold” – but in French obviously.  Instead of shaming Carmen, we should be wondering why Don José cannot bear to be rejected by her.  

Putting on a stunning performance in the title role is Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte, who makes her debut in Scottish Opera with this production.  Alongside her, Noah Stewart, a Harlem born tenor playing Don José whose accomplished music career includes singing back-up vocals for artists such as Coolio.  Both singers brought the sensual passion which sparked and kept the opera alight for the duration.  

In Act 3, the action builds to a crescendo at the bull ring, with a marvellous scene in which the crowds gather to watch the show, enhanced by periodically moving in slo-mo, which had a very dynamic effect.  Also heavily featured in this scene were a 20 strong children’s chorus from all over Scotland who were fantastic performers.   

From Carmen’s strong character who sticks to her principles no matter what, to the incredible voices of all the cast, this was an incredible production executed to an extremely high standard.  Make sure to see the other operas in the upcoming season including; Ariodante, Rusalka, The Mikado and many more.  

[Eve Lucas – @EveLucas]

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