Carmen, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2015Posted on 21 May 2015
The energy and insight of Richard Armstrong’s conducting carries all before it in this revival of Calixto Bieito’s production, first seen two and a half years ago. That and the excellent portrayal of Don José by American tenor Eric Cutler, whose voice and stage presence carry a nobility at odds with the rough machismo of soldiers and smugglers that renders him and Carmen an obvious cut above everyone else.
Justina Gringyte made a beautiful, blond Carmen, her fabulous body well set off by the great costume design that allows her to open her legs with no loss of decorum. From her first appearance in a telephone booth and her Act II re-encounter with José where she pulls her knickers off to her final defiance in the face of death, Ms Gringyte’s sexiness and self-control were never in doubt, though I would have preferred more vocal allure. Along with her friends Frasquita and Mercédès, very well sung by Rhian Lois and Clare Presland, this production lends their lives a softer than usual air with the appearance of Mercédès’ little daughter — a nice touch. Less successful is the tarty portrayal of Micaëla (Eleanor Dennis) that fits uneasily with the simple dignity of the music. This seemed less forced when the production was new, so I blame revival director Joan Anton Rechi.
Otherwise this revival well reflected the 2012 production, the excellent chorus giving a charming portrayal of the cigarette girls as they sit on the edge of the stage, George Humphreys a fine Corporal Morales, Leigh Melrose a surprisingly ineffective toreador, and Graeme Danby repeating the uncouth leering and nastiness he gives to Lieutenant Zuniga. Zuniga’s crudely macho attitude to his soldiers, well emphasised from the start by the punishing run of the soldier compelled to continue until he drops, lends a more sympathetic slant to Carmen’s friends — smugglers and crooks on the edges of society.
Lighting design by Bruno Poet is particularly effective in the Act III smugglers scene, with six large Mercedes cars on stage and the dark shape of a huge bull at the back of the set. The crash as that image is struck down provides a small coup de theatre that sets the stage for Act IV, where Richard Armstrong’s conducting and Eric Cutler’s Don José provide an ending that fully brings out José’s simple and completely ineffective attempt to slay his own demons.
Performances continue on various dates until July 3, with a live cinema screening on July 1 — for details click here.