Playhouse , Edinburgh

Sat 12th March 2016

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This is opera that I haven’t experienced before. But then I hadn’t encountered Ellen Kent who juggles 6 Nation-wide operas at once. Opera and circus acts would not seem like a happy combination but this artistic and most definitely boundary challenging theatre does a have a place out-with Vegas for entertaining a broader audience.Think you’re not an opera fan? So did I.

The first act of Carmen is a myriad of vibrant contrasting colour as we are introduced to the cast and in particular Don Jose, the Spanish corporal (Vitalii Liskovetskyi ) Micaela, the peasant girl from his home town, ( Maria Tonina) and Carmen or Carmencita to her friends, the gypsy amoral temptress (Liza Kadelnik) – full of lust & desire that sets Don Jose’s pulse racing from the moment he sets eyes on her exiting the cigarette factory where she works.

Setting the scene outside the cigarette factory, Director Ellen Kent uses a rescue donkey plodding by – not what you would expect to see in central Edinburgh on a Saturday night but boy were the audience thrilled. Kent’s mother ran an animal rescue centre in Southern Spain in the swinging sixties. So, it seems, a non conventional upbringing has its rewards and according to well known artist and poster man for this production Ralph Steadman, Ellen is, ‘Operatic Impresario- Scene shifter Extraordinaire….Behind the scenes Ellen Kent strives to make her Productions acceptable and attractive to ALL in Society.’

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Bizet’s last and arguably best work never gave him the fame and fortune he had strived for : within three months of its Paris premier Bizet died aged only 36. The addictive arias coupled with Kent’s 24 years of experience which keeps pushing her sense of theatrical spectacle to beyond its limits with her sheer joy of opulence and her skill at surprising the audience when they least expect it makes for great value entertainment. If I were to liken her to a film director I would chose Sally Potter of Orlando fame, not just for her use of the most sumptuous cloth of which there are clear links but because of what she brings to the table in terms of women’s power, sexuality and independence.

Of course Carmen is well known for her alluring resourcefulness through Prosper Merimee’s scandalous novel of 1845 where little was left to the imagination, but it is the the little touches that are added to modernise this old tale and really engage the audience gaining their empathy that makes Kent’s production so unique and exciting. Carmen’s character has a fluidity and believability that was less evident in Don Jose. His wonderful voice was undermined by stilted, almost robotic movements that were more mechanical than human.

Act 2 takes us to Lilias Pastia’s where you will delight in the busy bar, the costumes and the daft drunken behaviours all explained in English subtitles above which really help to make it inclusive to all. The final acts are where the action gets heated and I was transfixed by the bullfighter’s Escamillo ((Luri Gisca) – who was by far my favorite character – his incredibly powerful Baritone plees for Carmen’s affections had me rooting for him.

The inevitable tragedy that concludes this, the most entertaining of Carmen’s that I have witnessed, is not trivialised ( only Kent can do this) by the final crowd-thrilling prance with Caspian, the persil-white wonder horse from movies Robin Hood and Warhorse and his more than capable rider. If you want a night of passion, beautiful costume-changes, dramatic sets, bare-footed femme fatales, superb heart-wrenching as well as uplifting arias, all alongside some of the most passionate conducting – then this is the one to see.

Reviewer : Clare Crines

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Libretto

Plot: 4.png Lyricism: 4.png Music: 5

Stagecraft

Set: 5 Costume: 5 Lighting: 4.png

Performance

Singing: 5 Acting: 2.png  Choreography: 3

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