Carmen, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures
After a string of popular mainstream operas, was the Festival Centre audience ready for a Carmen staged on an enormous flight of stairs, with a Berlin-in-the-1930’s sensibility, an abundance of modern dance, and an offstage narrator?
The answer is a resounding yes – though with a production so determined to make a radical mark there were naturally a few dissenters. “‘Different’ is not the word I would use,” I heard someone insist in the interval.
The opening was breathtaking. As the chorus mingles below, drab as any crowd, Carmen looks down from a great height, spot-lit in vivid colour like a cross between a sassy gypsy and an inviting angel. The female narrator – whose spoken French sounds like music – gives us a male account of feminine beauty and Carmen soaks it up with playful irony.
It’s an attitude of fierce independence that bewitches us right through to her wonderful final gesture as the curtain closes -- however much we have come to believe her deepest desire is to fall in love and settle down.
Director Barrie Kosky, in an introduction to the performance streamed live from the Royal Opera House, told us he wanted a Carmen in permanent movement, with dance as seduction. But alongside the fluidity with rapid movement of the chorus and cast up and down the steps, he gives us stunning tableaus, again and again.
The show is a sumptuous visual as well as musical treat. The innovation, surprise and sense of excitement are sustained even as we know the tears and blood will flow.
Anna Goryachova plays Carmen with a passion fit to wither whoever wrote those opening words on female beauty. I say ‘plays’ because although she sings with a zesty, sometimes sultry, mezzo soprano she also acts and dances the part to perfection. I do love opera singers who can act.
I extend the same appreciation to the Royal Opera House chorus which is put through its paces here as never before.
None of which is to detract from the fact that Carmen contains such thrilling and moving music. The well known Flower Song, Habanera (Love’s a wild bird that can’t be tamed) and Toreador Song sit confidently above the innovative interpretation of the actors. Plus we had a touching duet between love-blinded José and innocent Micaȅla (played tenderly by Kristina Mkhitaryan) and a terrific gypsy girls dance at the tavern.
Next month the ROH is streaming its production of Verdi’s Macbeth, but not on the Festival Centre screen. Instead we have Christopher Eccleston in the RSC’s Macbeth and a month later Rory Kinnear in the National Theatre’s version.
The centre’s programmers no doubt thought three Macbeths in a row might be too much of a good thing. I’ve been promoting the two we have to students in our community and I’m on the lookout for a young volunteer to write a guest review for one of them.
By John Hargreaves