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Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
3:58 PM 6th October 2021
arts

Opera North And A Warm Welcome For New Music Director, Garry Walker

The new Opera North production of Carmen is stark and has divided opinion amongst the public and reviewers alike. To reflect that divide we publish here a second opinion, this time by seasoned opera veteran, Mike Tilling, with a contrasting view to our first piece (Opera North. Carmen And The Cowboys).

Erin Caves as Don José and Chrystal E. Williams as Carmen. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
Erin Caves as Don José and Chrystal E. Williams as Carmen. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
The warmth with which the Opera North faithful greeted new Music Director, Garry Walker, was palpable. There was also gratitude expressed in the applause for the realisation that we could once more enjoy live music after over five hundred days of closure. What followed was probably not what most of the audience would have expected.

Naively, I had assumed we were beyond the era of what the Germans call Regietheater – that movement in drama where Directors assumed that they knew better than the original composer/author and sliced up their works to serve different agendas. Apparently not.

Opera North’s brash, even vulgar, reinterpretation of Bizet’s perennial favourite takes the girls away from the cigarette factory and into a strip club; recasts Escamillo (Phillip Rhodes) as a cross between a Las Vegas Elvis and a rodeo rider (although still singing about his skill with a sword), and turns the gypsy smugglers into drug dealers. Just to make sure we have got the message, there are lines of cocaine to be sniffed, a fetishistic dancer as an entr'acte and the Chorus in Stetsons, line dancing to the Toreador song.

On the other hand, on the seventy mile drive home, thirty five of them were occupied with discussion of what we had just seen. A newcomer to opera was thrilled , whereas the old stagers were less than sure about what we had just seen.

Behind a bar, a huge sign says GIRLS. Enter Carmen herself (Chrystal E. Williams). One of the features sensibly retained by Director Edward Dick, was all the great tunes that inhabit the first half. She gives alluring renditions of Habanera, Oiseau Rebele, Prese des amparts, etc.

Late draftee Erin Caves, as the hapless Don Jose, who had less than a week in rehearsal, got stronger as the evening wore on. He strangles Carmen at the end. A curious choice since in most productions he uses a knife and then kills himself the same way. Consequently he is still standing as the curtain falls, since he could hardly strangle himself.

Carmen’s friends, Frasquita and Mercedes (Amy Freston and Helen Evora respectively) on their own are worth the price of a ticket, as is Camila Titinger as Micaela. And it was so good to hear the Orchestra and Chorus still so well integrated after the lock downs.

Carmen – Georges Bizet
Opera North, Leeds Grand
Carmen runs until 28th October in Leeds and then touring.