Review: Carmen by Opera North was a strong reminder of what we've been missing

It is 18 months since Covid forced Yorkshire’s own opera company to abandon live performances

Monday, 11th October 2021, 11:43 am

Now they are back, and this lively production of Bizet’s familiar tale of thwarted love and violent death is a strong reminder of what we’ve been missing.

Carmen was chosen presumably because it is one of the few operas guaranteed to put bums on seats.

From the opening bars of the overture every tune is instantly recognisable and punchily played by the Opera North orchestra under conductor Garry Walker: you go on humming them long after the final curtain.

Carmen.

The title role of the woman who lures innocent country boy Don Jose away from his childhood sweetheart and starts him on a life of banditry is not the usual hotblooded gipsy seductress.

Carmen is here played by the American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E Williams as a single mum desperate to support her child in a grim world of drugs and casual sex.

She and Erin Caves, who stepped into the role of Jose at short notice, are both in good voice, although their affair could do with a bit more sexual chemistry.

That is provided by Phillip Rhodes as the swaggering bullfighter Escamillo, who steals Carmen away with tragic consequences.

This lack of passion runs through director Edward Dick’s otherwise compelling production.

Although sung in Bizet’s native French, it is the sights and sounds and rhythms of Spain which should dominate this piece.

This production is set nowhere in particular.

It could be Barnsley rather than Barcelona for all the heat and passion it generates.

The feeling of indeterminate blandness is underscored by the company’s otherwise admirable decision to include local schoolchildren in the production.

They come across as cute, suburban and English rather than backstreet Spanish gipsies.

Otherwise this is a compelling show. Welcome back!

Philip saw Carmen by Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds.

It is at the theatre until October 28.