Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Opera North: Carmen - The Lowry, Salford

Composer: George Bizet
Text: Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halevy
Director: Daniel Kramer
Conductor: Alexander Ingram
Reviewer: Laura Stimpson
[rating: 5/5]

For many, opera is like marmite, you either love it or you hate it, it also seems that this particular production of Carmen, by Opera North, has the same effect on its audience.  Personally I found that tonight I loved both.

After reading other reviews of the opening night of this production I was interested to see what I would find, it seemed seasoned opera goers weren’t keen on this modern interpretation of Bizet’s classic and tragic final work, Bizet died three months after the first performance, therefore he didn’t get the chance to find out the success that this production would eventually become. 

As a relative new comer to opera I couldn’t help but be impressed by how accessible this production is.  The show spectacularly dazzles the audience with its wonderful music, beautiful singing, and stunning set.

This performance directed by Daniel Kramer keeps most of the original plot and emotions of the work, however changes the location.  It is still set in Seville, but Seville in Ohio.Throughout his life, Bizet, like many other composers in Paris in this period, had a love for opera, writing six full opera’s in his short lifetime.  As Carmen was Bizet’s final opera you feel that he has spent his life refining and developing his musical ideas culminating in this wonderful, depictive score.  As you listen to the work unfold you hear motifs used throughout the performance and the orchestra which link the many different moods in the piece. 

The orchestra of Opera North were on top form throughout the evening, their sense of balance, drama and ensemble was breath taking at times, with some particularly fine playing in many exposed areas of the score.  In the louder sections you were blown away by the impact that the chorus had to offer, their presence on stage, with choreography by Lucy Burge, provided interesting, busy and very powerful scenes.

The set design by Soutra Gilmour contributed enormously to the impact of the performance.  There were 3 full set changes, my favourite being in scene three when the set is transformed into a beautiful forest.  This together with snow and the lighting by Charles Balfour provided a magical feeling.

All of the cast gave a solid performance.  Carmen played by Heather Shipp portrayed the emotions of the wild character very well.  Despite being unwell her vocal performance was faultless.  Anne Sophie Duprels gave an outstanding performance as Micaela, her ability to act out highly physical movements whilst singing long, high notes was particularly impressive.

Stealing the show for me however, were two of the supporting characters, Zuniga played by Keel Watson gave a witty and powerful performance and his stage presence was always noticed.  Frasquita played by Claire Wild had a stunning singing voice and played her part incredibly well.  It was difficult to take your eyes off her when she was on stage.

All in all an excellent, energetic, visually wonderful performance, it has certainly changed my view of opera and I am looking forward to attending many more performances by Opera North in the future.  I would urge all of you who “don’t do opera” to give it a go.  Those of you who “do, do opera” go with an open mind.  

Reviewed on the 1st March 2011                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
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