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York
A Theatre Royal Carmen
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
One of the great boons of amateur operatics is the ability of the company to spectacularly crowd the stage. So observed the esteemed music critic, Neville Cardus, and York Opera’s Carmen perfectly illustrates his point. The travelling professional troupes, for all their strengths and advantages, do have to show economies of scale. This production does not.

Cavalcading around Seville’s square or caught in arresting tableau, we find in Clive Marshall's production more than a dozen local citizens, all beautifully got up in flowing Spanish costumes. There was a similar number of nicely-turned out soldiers, a quintet of proud toreadors and a harum-scarum children’s chorus that might have filled a classroom.

Most eye-catching of the lot, however, was the bevy of beautiful cigarette girls, sultry, sexy, flamboyant, in fine voice and feather. Emerging from their midst, hips swaying, lithe and limber, nudging each soldier she passes, casting lingering backward glances at them, enters our Carmencita.

Now normally we ask only two things of the fatally flawed gypsy girl, that she be surpassingly beautiful, outdoing her tobacco-rolling colleagues, and the possessor of a fine soprano.

Annabel van Griethuysen, in her first major operatic role, does not disappoint on either count, modulating easily from gentle delicacy to destructive intensity.

Her beauty wins the hearts of all men on stage - and not a few in the audience - at the exact point she sings the habanera, all restrained power and pent-up passion, surprising in one so fiery and feckless when the mood is on her.

From the moment she carelessly tosses a rose in the direction of Don José, sung in fine voice by Andrew Powis, she has changed the direction of his life and her own. Yes it’s the Carmen cliché but it gets us every time. A corporal in the army, he comes across as emotionally undeveloped.

When the lovely Micaëla, played to perfection by Alexandra Mather, brings him greeting from back home, bestowing on him his mother’s kiss, he wants to talk about, er, his mother – whilst still thinking about Carmen.

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Later, as a man, he is no match for Ian Thompson-Smith’s robust bullfighter, Escamillo, who has the swagger, the machismo, the fervour - expressed in fine voice and acting skills - that Carmen craves.

In the pit, Musical Director Derek Chivers leads a thirty-strong orchestra, fine-tuning Bizet’s forceful score, lingering lovingly on the melodies, of the Don José-Micaëla duet, for example, building expectantly to the Flower Song, joyously counterpointing Carmen’s solo in the Card Scene.

The familiar arias, wonderful in themselves, the themes and melodic recycling, all weave nicely into the dramatic narrative, rather than become the series of set pieces with which we are all familiar.

The set is solid and serviceable and Clive Marshall deserves much praise for the fluidity of his production and not least his decision to play it straight. The world has had enough of way-out, silly-clever, hip-op Carmens.

This one, sung in English, was captivating, tragic and full of energy.

Carmen, by York Opera, is at the York Theatre Royal, on 23, 24 and 26 October at 7.15pm. On Saturday 27 October, it is at 4.00pm.

A Theatre Royal Carmen, 24th October 2018, 11:30 AM