Carmen | Opera QueenslandKirstin Chávez as Carmen. Photo – Branco Gaica.

Can a story get any simpler than that of love, lust, jealousy and the gypsy in one's soul?

A stream of divine light shines onto a body stretched out on the floor: the graphic yet austere terracotta 'walls' add weight to the opening scene, where eyes are fixed on this pivotal point and the overture swells with its own excitement. Quintessential Spanish stage set, complete with Seville orange tree, sets the scene in the square where life passes by and 'people watch people' go about their daily life, including a passle of 'children-will-be-children' intertwined with several horny soldiers and the better social class of Seville. The opening scene of Bizet's Carmen set the mood and promised to entice.

Lust and love-fulfillment are the foreplay for this classic opera: throw in the fact that this is Spain in the 19th century with a luscious load of ladies (the "cigarette" women) schmoozing their way through the crowds; toreadors and banderilleros adding colour to the throng, and soldiers doing what soldiers do, this opera should be exciting and all enveloping, yet it failed to engage on many levels.

The Lyric Theatre sometimes has excellent sound quality and sometimes it just doesn't. Why would that be? Difficult at best for actors trying to pitch their lines, however in an opera, and with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra doing their best, the sound quality needs to be excellent. The synergy must be there between voice and orchestra to seamlessly carry the story along; audiences need to be swept away and not left wondering about the possible outcome.

Back to the square in Seville: cameo silhouettes against the terracotta wall, stark and graphic, changing from a leaning man-with-hat to woman-in-black with umbrella was a singular work of art and beauty to behold.

At Lillas Pastia's tavern the gypsy bar room scene had all the makings of colour and excitement with Flamenco dancers, gypsies, the toreador 'promising love' to Carmen with music eluding to all things Spanish: the fact that they were performing "....the intoxicating rhythm carried them away" was the perfect scene for passion, Spanish style. This reviewer was not 'carried away.' The sound, yet again, let the scene down. Flamenco must be spirited and fiery, not just audible, where the audience strains to hear.

Kirsten Chavez, as Carmen, is all woman. Her voice carried her character and through her acting and singing, Carmen came to life. No problem hearing Kirsten - her excellent range peppered her spicy character and she cleaved every scene to her chest (her chest and other bits being the downfall of many). After all, the opera is Carmen and rightly so.

Act IV (the final act) finally shines the light, and the vibrancy, pageantry and festivity that is Spain bursts onto the stage. The volume appears to have been turned up and the costumes go from dull gypsy peasant to vibrant day-out-at-a-bullfight eye candy. Don Jose (Konstantin Adreiev) has come to do no good, with jealousy eating him alive and a fixation on Carmen that can only end in tragedy (naturally, this is an opera!). Escamillo (Jose Carbo) now has the 'love' of Carmen and this does not sit well with Don Jose.

Carmen has "all the best tunes" and audience members would know most of them in varying forms. Queensland Symphony Orchestra should be heard as they are excellent; as are the Opera Queensland singers. Perhaps my ears need syringing?

Opera Queensland presents

Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 26 October to 10 November, 2012
Tickets: $54.25 - $166.25

Sung in French with projected English translations. This production is presented by arrangement with Opera Australia

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