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Bravo for Kosky’s full-on Bizet

This oratorio-style production delivers Carmen as you’ve never heard it before

06 December, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Gaëlle Arquez in the title role of Carmen at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Bill Cooper

AUSTRALIAN opera director Barrie Kosky’s Carmen is back at the Royal Opera House barely nine months since its first outing there last March. It’s gained much from the time-out, nothing major, but lots of worthwhile improve­ments that add up to a lot.

The set is as it was, a wide staircase of 20 steps spread out across the stage, not unlike the Spanish Steps in Rome. Otherwise, there aren’t any other props, no scene outside the tobacco factory, no smugglers’ cave, nothing to suggest we’re outside a bullring.


Barrie Kosky’s Carmen. Photo: Bill Cooper

First time round, absence of any scenery was so irritating, this time round it didn’t seem to matter. That’s mainly due to other improve­ments. Extraneous scenes have been removed, a troupe of dancers has been reduced to five and there’s much less rushing up and down the Grand Old Duke of York steps.
Also, the amplified live commentary, somewhat similar to a Greek theatre chorus, is much less flippant.
With all these chanes in place, Kosky’s Carmen has turned into a triumph.

Without any sets, it’s become something of a semi-staged oratorio with all attention focused on Bizet’s music.

Singers are up to the job in spades, stand-in French mezzo Gaëlle Arquez singing a super Carmen, and American tenor Brian Jagde perfect as sullen, shunned Don Jose. Eleonora Buratto sings well in the crucial role of Micaela and Alexander Vinogradov just about makes the grade as Escamillo.

But what makes this revival so much better than the original is wonderful Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson making her ROH debut. Time and again, she shines the light on every nuance of Bizet’s orchestral music, every phrase is crystal clear, every melodic line given full prominence.

Indeed, Kosky’s oratorio-style production delivers Carmen as you’ve never heard before, Bizet full-on, Bizet untrammelled to a tee.

• Bizet’s Carmen is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on December 8, 11, 14, 19 and 22, 020 7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk

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