I had the recent pleasure of attending a Saturday night performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Sydney Opera House. Opera Australia will be performing Carmen from 16th June and 12 August 2016. We left home early and took a 4 hour bus ride from our hometown to Sydney. Once in Sydney we settled into our hotel room and then wandered the city, grabbed some lunch and an early dinner, then head back to get ready…
Being a Saturday night performance, we got a little dressed up, although as we were walking the 1.2kms to the Opera House, I opted for flats instead of heels. There were varying levels of formal dress, from women in furs and pearls to people in nice jeans and a collared shirt. We grabbed a program and a drink, then settled in for the performance.
For those of you unfamiliar with Carmen, I’ll give a little synopsis (I guess spoiler alert…)
Carmen is the story of Don Jose (a soldier) and his seduction by the beautiful and fiery gypsy, Carmen. Don Jose abandons his childhood sweetheart and his military duties to follow Carmen, however, she soon falls out of love with him, partially due to his possessiveness and falling in love with the striking Toreador Escamillo. Don Jose responds by murdering Carmen in a jealous rage. The opera contains themes about fate, jealously, dislike of authority and morality.
It is performed in the original language of French, although, Opera Australia did provide surtitles (above the stage). I don’t think it could be performed in any other language, the Habanera in particular, would lose its beauty and impact.
Director John Bell wanted to give a feeling of Cuba and Havana in his direction, costuming and set design. It comes together gorgeously. The set transports us seamlessly from one place to another, with the basic underlying set remaining the same. From the street where the soldiers are waiting for the changing of the guard to the smugglers hideout where Carmen and her compatriots are hiding their contraband. The costuming is a mix of bright colours and cuban inspired military uniforms.
Clementine Margaine sung the part of Carmen on the night (there is another woman taking the part in the later half of the performances) and she was divine as Carmen. The right balance between fiery, sultry, seductive and a little playful. Her voice is stunning when singing alone, but also works beautifully with the chorus and the duet with Yonghoon Lee’s Don Jose. He also brings something to Don Jose that I haven’t seen done to great effect before. He makes the audience feel sympathy with his plight at first. You feel sorry for him as he is seduced by Carmen and follows her, only for her to get tired of him. Lee transitions Don Jose from the infatuated lover to possessive man capable of murder over the 4 acts of the show and he does it so well. Ultimately, Carmen choose freedom and independence, even through death, rather than be possessed by Don Jose.
The opposite to Carmen, Don Jose’s childhood sweetheart, is sung by Natalie Aroyan and she provides a sweet innocent voice to counter the seductive power of Carmen. Natalie’s voice is clear and pure, especially in her aria. She projects a kind of confident morality and is the voice of conscience we should all listen to more often.
One of the little standouts of the night was the boys choir who are a little mischievous bunch who make fun of the soldiers in the beginning. They provide a little relief to the drama unfolding in the main opera. They were fantastic, sang well and showed off some of their dance moves. I thought they were charming.
The only drawback I found was Escamillo, Michael Honeyman performed well vocally, but his costuming let him down slightly I think. Escamillo is supposedly seductive enough to woo Carmen away from Don Jose, but I felt he was a little bit too much of a gentleman, needed a little spice to the character. It was hard to picture him winning the fiery Carmen when he was impeccably dressed in a perfect suit and tie.
Overall, I wish I could watch this performance over and over, I loved it. I would recommend it to hard corp Opera lovers and those seeing their first ever Opera alike.