When it was first shown in 1875, Carmen was not embraced by audiences, and it appeared destined to last only as long as one of Carmen’s love affairs. However, despite its rocky start Carmen reached international acclaim and is now one of the world’s most well-known operas.
Carmen is woman who loves deeply if she loves at all. She is strong and bold and Rinat Shaham encompasses her determined and passionate nature. Her delicious voice allows the audience to dive into her voluptuous and volatile world without question.
Don José is a hard roll to play. He has to be a charming and enigmatic man who becomes completely undone by love. Marcelo Puente took on the roll and his voice is strong, however, performance lacked conviction.
Stacey Alleaume as Micaëla and Michael Honeymoon as Escamillo were both outstanding. They bought their characters to life with superb voices and great stage presence.
John Bell’s Carmen is a kaleidoscope of colour and the effect is delightfully charismatic – an opera for the eyes. Vibrant oranges and loud purples link in to the physicality of the opera. You are swept into the piazza where couples lounge in each other’s arms, girls and boys flirt and smoke in the languid air, scuffs break out and quarrels are quelled. Costume designer Teresa Negroponte brings this all to a dramatic conclusion with the final act set outside the bullring in Seville. This vibrant colour slips from the stage as Carmen dressed in black and Don José have their final moment and the contrast is starkly effective.
The children’s chorus draws heavily on modern culture. Watching a group of boys breakdancing to Georges Bizet’s music was a joy that was only diminished by the glaring absence of female dancers. In the program notes Bell himself talks of the social norms that constrained men and women and how Carmen, José and Micaëla all “defy these stereotypes and struggle to proclaim their individuality”. In an opera that deals with gender stereotypes the lack of diversity was a blatantly obvious gap that could have so easily been avoided.
If you were lucky you caught a glimpse of Carlo Goldstein, his mane of hair illuminated in the pit, shaking and swaying in time to the music. Goldstein and The Orchestra may have been out of sight but their music rose from below and seemed to flow through the audience.
Carmen is a tale of sex and violence, love and war, passion that sets you free and binds you completely. As an empowered and dangerously alluring woman who doesn’t hide from power or fear, Carmen still resonates with audience today and Bell’s production is bold and beautiful.
Opera Australia presents
Director John Bell
Venue: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House NSW
Dates: February 15 – March 23, 2018