Rinat and company star in dazzling Carmen – an opera review by Victor Grynberg

February 13, 2018 by Victor Grynberg
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It was a lot more than Israeli Carmen superstar Rinat Shaham and the glorious music of Georges Bizet that prompted the audience to rise as one for a rapturous standing ovation at the premiere last Saturday night.

Marcelo Puente as Don José, Rinat Shaham as Carmen and the Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of Carmen at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo : Prudence Upton

If the expression “It takes a village” was ever appropriate for an opera production then this would be the case here.

This production was first conceived by theatre great John Bell in 2016. Bell has brought the opera to modern-day Seville, complete with smartphones and wheelie luggage. But most importantly , inspired by the colours of Cuba he has dressed the gypsies in fabulous bright costumes which light the stage. We’re used to the cigarette factory workers, including Carmen to come out of their workplace in the drab colours of an 1870’s Seville.

There would hardly be anyone who doesn’t know the melody of the Habanera. Besides being used so effectively here, the melody, which originates from Havana has been used in countless movies and commercials, so Bell is quite entitled to use this as inspiration. Costume designer Teresa Negroponte obviously has a great eye for interpreting a theme, and full credit to her.

I knew the production was going to be something special when the 16 strong boys troupe appeared. Perfectly rehearsed and not showing any first-night nerves they quickly won the audience over, especially the 4 athletic rap dancers .The whole gang’s singing and dancing was faultless. How opera standards have improved over the years!

(Left to Right): Agnes Sarkis as Mercédès, Michael Honeyman as Escamillo, Jane Ede as Frasquita and the Opera Australia Chorus in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of Carmen at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Prudence Upton

Choreography comes to the fore again in the second act. Set in the tavern, where fated Carmen first meets famed toreador Escamillo (Michael Honeyman) . The brilliant dancing is designed with a lot of humour and the audience certainly enjoyed it. Kelley Abbey is a much-loved local choreographer whose fame has come from musical theatre rather than opera  She was a  great choice as her work here is outstanding.

As one of the first Verismo (realistic ) operas it’s really important to cast an opera with performers whose appearance and acting ability are totally credible, especially to today’s audiences.

Enter Don Jose, a lowly corporal, but someone two beautiful women fall in love with. Rising Argentinian Tenor Marcelo Puente fills the tall dark and handsome description……….fortunately he also commands a superb voice and hopefully we will see this tenor in many more roles for OA.

The village girl Micaela, in love with Don Jose, and seeking him out in Seville with a message from his mother was wonderfully performed by Stacey Alleaume, a soprano with a big future

Rinat Shaham as Carmen and Marcelo Puente as Don José in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of Carmen at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo: Prudence Upton

She was warmly  applauded  after each of her numbers  and  especially during the curtain calls  .

Opera companies today aren’t famous for the length of time given to rehearsals , so to see a production where all the support roles seem perfect means the revival  director Roger Press has done a great job.

Starring in support were Jane Ede and Agnes Sarkis as gypsy friends of Carmen . Just delightful.

Worthy of  specific mention were Alexander Hargreaves as a corporal and Richard Anderson as the tough lieutenant Zuniga.

In the newly, but only slightly, enlarged pit, the orchestra was outstanding. Energetic Italian conductor, Carlo Goldstein , arms and hair flying about was encouraging the very best from his team. And with the score Bizet left, how could it fail?

Dying tragically only three months after a not too successful premiere Bizet could have had no idea that this Opera would become the most popular one in the complete repertoire of operas.  The arias and duets, both the big hits and the lesser known were played and sung beautifully.

Finally of course there is no great Carmen the Opera without a great Mezzo in the title role. Ever since her triumphant debut in Glyndebourne in  2004, Rinat Shaham has been very highly sought after  by opera companies around the world. Married to an Australian expat and living in Barcelona, this is perhaps why we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy her in this role three times . First in the theatre in 2011, then on the Handa Opera on the Harbour production in 2013, and now again in 2018. The complete Carmen, singing superbly, looking like a very desirable Gypsy, and dancing and acting to the highest standard.

If you’ve seen this opera before, or this would be your first time, you won’t find better anywhere. Highly recommended.

5 stars

An Opera review by Victor Grynberg

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