Monday, February 14, 2011

Carmen, 9th Feb 2011

Thanks to the lovely people at Culture Vultures & Opera North, we went to see Carmen at the Grand recently as part of a push to get more people who wouldn't ordinarily see opera to go along and see what's what. Thing is, my delightful lady wife and I quite like some opera and have seen a couple of them over the years, one or two even at the Grand.

Carmen is a favourite, for sentimental reasons as well as liking the tunes. We last saw Carmen on our honeymoon at the Verona Opera House - an incredible roman ampitheatre, sat on hot stone that got harder and harder on the bum as the evening progressed - and that production was enormous. There were something like 170 people plus on stage, not counting the donkeys, dogs, all sorts of other non-singing parts. It was enormous fun, fantastic spectacle, and a joyous event that we will never forget.

So, we like Carmen, the tale of a capricious minx. The performance at the Grand was very good, but for the first act I felt the chorus were holding back a bit, maybe not getting into it quite as much as they could have. The start of the second act, at Lillas Pastia's inn put that thought to bed; the Gypsy Song (Les Tringle des Sistres Tintaient) was fun and performed with such cynicism it was hard not to laugh, with Toreador following and getting everybody going. And then the third & 4th acts came along and they blew the cobwebs away, in full voice for the moments I adore.

The tenor playing Don Jose (a superb Peter Auty) was suffering with a chest infection but carried on regardless, bless. The soloists were all very good, with particular credit going to Heather Shipp for the title role, a challenging task to sing, let alone perform (and she performed it well) and the choir were occasionally bemusing in their activities but substantial in tone (my personal favourite choral bit, AIV M26, was excellent). Credit where credit is due, the band were very nifty and without them Carmen would be about six minutes long. The staging was a little eye-opening; there was often an incredible amount of stuff happening on stage, and when you add in all the people in their pants, or with their bum hanging out, I can see why this production got a 12+ rating...

The translation - on monitors - was very dry and it felt like someone was having a laugh with bits of it, and prompted me to find a copy of the vocal score (IMSLP is the place for this, believe me). I understand that bits of the score were altered (and from what I remember some of the tunes were a little different) but it didn't detract from what was - again - spectacle.

Carmen is off on tour; I hope it does well, and that the new titlular soprano (Sandra Piques Eddy) steps into Heather's shoes in April with the same gusto that was displayed in this performance.

Would I go & see it again? Yes, although perhaps not this season. Whistling Habanera on the way home was probably a good sign, though. Many, many thanks to Em and all at Opera North & The Grand who were involved in this evening; it was much fun and I hope useful for everybody.