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The opera is back in town!  It’s a sadly short 2-month season before the theatre goes dark in mid-August for them to get ready for My Fair Lady, opening on 30 August.

On Saturday night to Opera Australia’s new production of Carmen, directed by John Bell.  The set is by Michael Scott-Mitchell and the costumes by Teresa Negroponte.  Andrea Molino conducted.

The house was as full as I have ever seen it in recent years: even the third level boxes were populated.

Molino was lurking beneath the lip of the pit and with a preparatory gesture from his hiding place leapt to the podium to bring the overture to life. This drew applause when the up-tempo section came to what the audience judged to be the finish though the dramatic heart-beat thumping cello moment was yet to come.

I sometimes forget how utterly delightful it is to soak up such glorious music so close up.

The curtain rose on what is becoming Opera Australia’s best choice for the Joan Sutherland stage: what proved to be a single set, set as deep and wide as possible into the stage to create space.

The production has been billed as a Cuban take on Carmen.  That’s to say, a kind of Ruritanian Cuba or do I mean Cuban Ruritania.  It’s not really Cuba, you see, just something like it.

An awful lot of stuff, especially in Acts II and III, seemed to be played for laughs: the cute-as Kombi van for Lillias Pasta’s café, parked in a square (so it was a mystery why Zuniga needed to knock on a door when he turned up);  the merry band of smugglers. That’s Carmen’s two ditzy besties, Frasquita and Mercedes, pictured above.  (Opera Australia’s picture.)

Everyone was so busy being funny in the Act II quintet that they couldn’t really keep up with Molino (who had set a cracking pace) and it was just a bit of a mess.

There was lots of colour and movement as there should be for any good musical,  but despite a shift from vaudeville in the final scene I found it hard to take seriously Don Jose’s descent into outlawry or even Carmen’s love of liberty.

It took me a while to get used to Yonghoon Lee’s vocal style as Don Jose – he seemed to be making a lot of noise from rather far back in his mouth, but as the opera went on he drew on reserves of a brighter sound.  His Flower Song elicited what seemed to me the most heartfelt audience response of the night.  Clémentine Margaine as Carmen was also good without any such single moment.

Back in 2014 I was critical of Natalie Aroyan as Micaela.  The things I criticised are both improved/fixed.

I probably don’t really want to see Carmen as often as Opera Australia seems determined to put it on, but I still had a very pleasurable time.




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