BIZET CARMEN English National Opera at
The Coliseum, 24 February 2001 (AW&PGW)
The current revival of Carmen went well on its first night by all accounts, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. We saw the alternate cast under his assistant conductor, Brad Cohen. Opera depends for its success upon an amalgam of all the elements, crucial components including the setting and the audience.
For Jonathan Miller's 1995 Carmen, the huge Coliseum has reverted to normal proscenium presentation after its successful Italian Season decked in Lazaridis scaffolding, admired and enjoyed again earlier in the week at a second seeing of the spectacular and moving Nabucco, with orchestra on stage sounding resplendent, and with chorus members processing through the aisles amongst the audience and amazing with their vocal power, the whole involving us as participants and far more than a gimmick.
Sally Burgess did not have the essential magnetism to rivet our attention upon her. In Lillas Pastia's bar she was completely sidelined by the elaborately choreographed dancing and the eroticism of the dancing couples eclipsed Carmen as a rather perfunctory temptress - her costumes were more alluring than her body language. [picture Bill Rafferty]
Nor did Carmen and Don José have the chemistry between them to make us care about their inevitable fates. There was no way this Carmen would have bothered with David Rendall's mother-fixated, unglamorous soldier. Nor did the Toreador match the build-up of expectation for his entrances; Roberto Salvatori was not in good voice and his Escamillo and was often just behind the beat, as were the other singers on stage rather often; Brad Cohen did not seem to be able to fix and hold the singers' attention. Carmen is an opera which relies for its full effect upon charismatic conducting, equally as upon its principals; it is impossible to guess how different the total experience would have been for us with the other cast and conductor.
Linda Richardson was touching and sang beautifully as Micaela, the girl from home who never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. The huge chorus did well in their important frame for the personal dramas, but the world they depicted was essentially one of life on a stage in a theatre, despite efforts at naturalism. It was comical to have them crowd in as smugglers with their loot, urging each other increasingly loudly to keeps silent for fear of discovery; the endless repetition of their few words bringing to mind Handel's way in his oratorios and operas. The raucous kids brought life to their mischievous taunting of the soldiery and in their general excitement at the goings on in this Seville.
Although the house was full, as usual for one of the most popular of all operas, and the audience appeared content, for us it simply did not gel. After recent experiences at ENO and, particularly, in Stuttgart , this was a disappointing and long Night at the Opera which left us untouched and bore no comparison with our last Carmen, WNO at Oxford.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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