Opera North. Carmen And The Cowboys
Chrystal E. Williams as Carmen. All photos by Tristram Kenton
It's been 581 days since Opera North's last performance. The world has changed since then. We've had - and still have - a global pandemic. Back in the UK we have our own home grown and virulent infection of violence against women. Rarely do the headlines deviate from tales of such matters and how men are seemingly incapable of behaving properly. Against this background it is brave of Opera North to choose Carmen as their return production.
Known for its ridiculously misogynistic take on life, Carmen is a tale of pitiful women being serially abused by pathetic men. What an opportunity for Opera North and Director Edward Dick to turn this performance into a political statement - and what a shame they missed it so spectacularly.
I feel compelled to give this performance 2 stars because of the ever dependable efforts of the chorus and orchestra - both performed admirably. But, despite a host of glorious voices, the production as a whole just didn't work.
Where was it set?
In some Mexican drug cartel's hideout perhaps. I couldn't tell.
When was it set?
Goodness knows. You certainly couldn't tell from the inconsistent costumes. Cowboy hats were everywhere and almost the entire cast seemed to be smoking for some reason.
What was the set supposed to do?
Particularly in the first act where it was so one dimensional, with performers forced to wander left and right, in and out of the lights, seemingly without choreography. Bizarre.
The Chorus of Opera North and Company of Carmen
And throughout the production there was a huge glittering neon sign pronouncing GIRLS in emphatic lettering. Presumably that was supposed to induce a seediness, a bordello style atmosphere, an effortless sleaziness. Sadly it did not.
Similarly, and I make no claim to be an expert here, who dreamt up the idea of putting half a dozen women in onesies with nipple tassels attached? And then to pose, presumably, erotically? Really? Have you never heard that 'less is more'?
But my favourite failure, which made me and those around me giggle, was the rendition of the Toreador Song. Sung well by Philip Rhodes, despite the fact that he was dressed head to toe in what can only be described as an Elvis tribute costume. Leaping on to a bar and grabbing a microphone he lacked only a slicked back hair style and an appropriate hound dog for the full Presley.
Despite these many problems some highlights were to be found. Erin Caves had just one week to prepare for his role as Don Jose and he did admirably well - particularly in the second act where some passion was finally injected into the performance. At last we could believe that Don Jose and Carmen could conceivably be attracted to each other - not so in the first act. Chrystal E. Williams (Carmen) began to breath fire and fully embodied the passion of the piece.
Camila Titinger as Micaëla
Camila Titinger, the Italian-Brazilian soprano, has a lovely voice and succeeded well in being the spurned and heavily pregnant Micaela. And Amy Freston as Frasquita demonstrated great ability to both act and to nail the top notes adding some needed panache to the production.
The final straw for me was the death scene; Carmen's luck finally runs out and she is strangled by Don Jose. With much writhing whilst lying flat on the stage our leading lady is despatched directly in front of a crowd of onlookers - many of whom were children. This felt staggering insensitive to me and sealed my negativity.
This was not my favourite Carmen and, despite the huge array of assembled talent at Opera North's disposal, they completely failed to score in any of the political, social or historic goals looming directly in front of them. An opportunity missed.