Reviewed by Jodie Crawford
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Opera can often come across as an elite, members only club: well not anymore. Opera North have created an opera for the masses in this production of Carmen. It is a Spanish tale, told in French, of a prostitute, Carmen, who uses her charms and assets to make local soldiers fall for her and shower her in love.
Don Jose is one of those soldiers, who initially ignores her performance and attention seeking behaviour as he enters the bar. A fight erupts and Carmen is arrested and ordered to be locked up, but she charms Jose and manages to convince him to let her free, resulting in his own detention and prison sentence. The story then follows Carmen and Jose’s journey from prostitute and soldier to lovers and drug smugglers. Carmen eventually tires of Jose and moves on to the charismatic and showy Escamillo, leaving Jose heartbroken and to return to his sick mother. But their story does not end their as Jose later returns and is full of hatred which leads to tragedy.
This production is nothing like you’d expect from a classic opera, but everything you’d expect from Opera North. It’s contemporary, gritty and mesmerising. The talent on the stage is indescribable. Carmen, played by Chrystal E. Williams connects with the audience from the moment she enters the stage: She is vibrant and glamorous. She plays the character with a conviction that makes the audience invest in her journey so much so that the ending leaves us devastated, even though we know what’s coming.
Sebastian Gueze (Don Jose) and Gyila Nagy (Escamillo) play the roles of Carmen’s love interest and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the production they take command of the audience and Gueze takes us on an extraordinary journey of the pain that love can inflict and the consequences that this can present.
Both Frasquita ( Amy Freston) and Mercedes (Helen Evora), Carmens friends and fellow prostitues/smugglers have the most incredible voices, along with the remarkable Alison Langer. These three women along with Williams encapture the essence of what it is to be a woman living in a man’s world.
Andres Duckworths solo dance opening at the beginning of Act 3 is a beautiful addition to this production. They moved with such grace and control, to give us a moment of pure beauty that will stay with the audience beyond the end of the show. An incredible talent.
The chorus of Opera North are the stand out of this show, their voices work together to produce something that is spine tingling. The final scene is as incredible as it is due to the atmosphere created by the chorus. So many talented individuals brought together to create something outstanding.
Colin Richmond (set design), Laura Hopkins (costume design), and Rick Fisher (lighting design) have got this absolutely perfect. The staging is incredible. I did not expect it have such an impact, there are moments where the set and all on it look like something out of a Hollywood movie.
Antony Hermus and the orchestra are astonishing. The ease in which they navigate us through the narrative is magical and faultless.
Overall Opera North have taken this age old tale and dragged it into the modern world. There were however moments in the production where it was difficult to hear some of the solo voices and some of the choreography was stilted and felt forced. But that didn’t take away from the overall impact of the performance.
A special mention has to go to the BSL interpreter, who was nearly as engaging as the cast. It felt like he was as much part of the company as the lead performers and was an excellent and inclusive addition to this production at the Lowry.
Carmen is a feast for the senses and is like nothing I have ever seen. I wasn’t an opera fan before, but I certainly am now. I’ve quickly turned into Opera Norths biggest fan!
Further information and performances can be found here.