The Royal Opera – Carmen

Carmen – Opéra comique in four acts to a libretto by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy after Prosper Mérimée’s novel [sung in French with English surtitles]

Moralés – Jacques Imbrailo
Micaëla – Susan Gritton
Don José – Marcelo Álvarez
Zuniga – Alan Ewing
Carmen – Nancy Fabiola Herrera
Frasquita – Elena Xanthoudakis
Mercédès – Monika-Evelin Liiv
Lillas Pastia – Caroline Lena Olsson
Escamillo – Kyle Ketelsen
Le Dancaïre – Roderick Earle
Le Remendado – Harry Nicoll
Guide – Anthony DeBaeck

The Royal Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Daniel Oren

Francesca Zambello – Director
Denni Sayers – Associate Director
Tanya McCallin – Designs
Paule Constable – Lighting
Arthur Pita – Choreography
Mike Loades – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 28 March, 2008
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

When Francesca Zambello’s production of “Carmen” opened at The Royal Opera House at the end of 2006, Covent Garden audiences had waited some fifteen years for a new staging of Bizet’s opera. The current performances form the first revival of a production that already looks tired and dated. It begins badly and goes steadily downhill.

Alan Ewing as Zuniga & Jacques Imbrailo as Moralés  & Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen & Marcelo Álvarez as Don José. ©Catherine AshmoreFor a start it looks awful. Flat, dull-brown slabs passing for scenery make it look like a provincial touring company staging that gives no indication of place or time. A square in Seville … Lillas Pastia’s tavern … a mountain pass … and a bullring in Seville. They all look the same and totally lack any kind of atmosphere. If it weren’t for the Spanish dancing, we wouldn’t know where we were. In front of these monumental walls are crowds of people seemingly going in all directions as if we were watching “Show Boat” in the Royal Albert Hall. There are dancers and actors and extra chorus members, presumably to make the thing look spectacular; but in the event it’s just a muddle of confusion. Not even a real stallion, a donkey and a chicken can save the day.

But the day is saved by the singers who, if not exactly world-class actors, managed the arias very well indeed. Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen has a good voice but the characterisation leaves much to be desired. Why do we always have to have in Carmen the stereotypical sexual body-language for which she spreads her legs, goes into a squatting position and then expects men to fall at her feet? It’s such a cliché. As Don José, Marcelo Álvarez works very hard: indeed by the end he seems exhausted. Beginning gradually he displays a massive crescendo of brilliant singing into the final act, a performance of immense energy. Susan Gritton acquits herself well as Micaëla and Kyle Ketelsen makes a credible torero.

The members of the chorus, even they don’t move around particularly well, make a great noise singing in unison. The Orchestra under Daniel Oren gives a good account of Bizet’s score although without ever reaching great heights of passionate playing.

  • This review is of the second performance of the current run; the first night was March 25 Further performances on 2, 9, 14 & 17 April at 7 p.m. and 5 & 12 April at 6.30 p.m.
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera
  • Carmen at the Met/Herrera & Álvarez

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