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'Carmen' - Royal Opera House

Barrie Kosky’s staging of Carmen is certainly not what classic opera lovers are used to. It brings a modern angle to the story of centuries, but at times might feel as a shaky parody of the classic. All in all, it definitely is a production that you could madly love just as well as prudently dislike.

Barrie Kosky creates a brave, seductive, yet, mysterious Carmen, interpreted by French mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez. Given the fact that Arquez replaced the earlier scheduled Carmen by Ksenia Dudnikova on a very short notice, her performance was flawless. Gaëlle Arquez showed grace and precision in choreography and singing despite some off-notes in the beginning. The brave and loving Don Jose is played in confidence by American tenor Brian Jagde. His rival Escamillo, portrayed by Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov, sounded rich and convincing. Eleonora Buratto’s Micaëla was highly touching with her crystalline interpretation. However, as much strength can be felt when characters are on stage separately, there is little chemistry when they are on stage together.

Gaëlle Arquez as Carmen © ROH | Bill Cooper

The set is not colourful and detailed as it is usually made for traditional Carmen productions. Conversely, the stage is here taken over by a huge plain staircase. But the absence of decor does not make the set feel empty, as the stage is filled with the brilliant members of the chorus and marvellous dancers. Various emanations of Carmen’s personalities appear on stage through out the performance, as Barrie Kosky displays the femme fatale’s hidden mysteries. Carmen changes costumes several times: she starts in a flashy pink toreador costume, then moves to a massive gorilla costume, to several down-to-earth outfits and a final impressive dress, mid-way between wedding and funeral attire. Yet, even though activity is bursting on stage, the traditional Seville atmosphere and its whole environment are missing, which makes it at times challenging to orientate.

The Royal Opera House Chorus in Carmen © ROH | Bill Cooper

As a solution to this Barrie Kosky introduces a spoken narrative: the Voice of Carmen, recorded by Claude de Demo. The pre-recorded material is fuller than the original recitatives written by original librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based Prosper Mérimée’s eponymous novella. Sometimes even substituting the original libretto, it makes the most disconcerting peculiarity of the Stage Director’s concept. While it serves its purpose – to get a picture of what and where the events are taking place, it breaks the fluidity of whole piece as the Voice of Carmen can even be heard describing Carmen while the actual character is still on stage.

Dancers in Carmen © ROH | Bill Cooper

The major highpoint, leaving no doubts about the high level of enjoyability of the show, were the six magnificent dancers. Otto Pichler, the choreographer for the production, prepared a modern combination of classic ballet and street dance, infused with tango and flamenco. Definitely challenging at times the traditional picture of the late 19th century opera with its provocative tango duets for two male dancers, the choreography was executed in the most professional manner by the dancers and gave Barrie Kosky’s staging a refined and interesting look.

Although there were moments of brilliance throughout the show, the overall feeling of this production of Carmen is unclear. Even if it lacks to fully deliver the message on an emotional level, it is an interesting and riveting interpretation through its choreography and scenography.


November 30th to December 22nd 2018 and June 22nd to July 20th 2019

Tickets: £9–£200

Tailored tickets may be available by registering for free to Young ROH

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