This touring production of Carmen sees WNO director Jo Davies transpose the fiery Spanish opera to mid '70s central America with a design by Leslie Travers based around a crescent of tiered apartments overlooking a central courtyard; echoes of Brazilian slum life in the favela. It’s a rather grey and dismal scene which greets the audience as the front cloth rises.
Davies' directorial experience in musical theatre is reflected in this production; busy ensemble scenes and almost frenzied ‘choreography’ is occasionally a distraction to the focal point in some scenes. The exception, Cigarette Chorus in Act 1 – as the overall clad factory girls gather in the courtyard and taunt the soldiers.
In fact, this production is lifted throughout by the excellent quality of the WNO chorus.
Of course, any performance of this most popular opera stands or falls by the performance of the eponymous character 'Carmen' and delivery of the show-stopping arias with which the public is only too familiar.
In her UK debut at Carmen, Julia Mintzer’s performance was sadly let down by low vocal sound quality and (to the ear of a linguist) poor pronunciation and diction of the French libretto. Fans of the more typical feisty bohemian interpretation may be disappointed. Escamillo’s arrival and the Toreador song where somewhat routine in delivery.
For me the performance of the night (and judging by audience reaction at curtain) was Elin Pritchard's Micaela. Spurned by Jose, maintaining unerring devotion to the soldier, she is the go-between to his dying mother, this Welsh soprano delivered faultless, impeccable singing; every word audible. Mention must also go to Haegee Lee as Frasquita for her quality vocal performance and characterisation.
Conductor Harry Ogg and WNO orchestra gave passion and interpretation to Bizet’s music bringing to the pit some of the fire that may be missing on the stage.
(This performance had English surtitles