REVIEW: Carmen, Welsh National Opera, Mayflower Theatre

By Hilary Porter

SPORTING a vest, baggy brown overalls slung to her waist, high ponytail, hoop earrings and tattoos on her arms and chest could this really be the bewitching Carmen?

On first sight she was more Vicki Pollard - Little Britain's famous chav than opera's ultimate seductress!

Bizet’s 19th century opera is traditionally set in the heat of Seville, simmering with smouldering gypsies, flamenco and castanets.

But Welsh National Opera’s new production, directed by Jo Davies, is set in 'the recent past' but probably around the 1970s in Latin America.

A TV set, denim jeans, leather jackets, guns and water pistols bring it into modern times and a grimy set that serves as cigarette factory, block of flats and the bull ring all feel very dull.

Carmen is presented as a working-class woman facing the difficulties of surviving in a male -dominated world and in a community that's under the control of a military regime.

It was difficult to comprehend how any man could fall for this woman who is violent and selfish and does nothing to win our sympathies.

When she sings, however, you can forgive all this as Virginie Verrez has a stunning voice and no man can resist Carmen's charms.

In many ways this is a study of sexual politics and, devoid of education, money, social standing and family support, Carmen uses all her power as a woman to succeed in her main motivation - freedom.

I enjoyed her interactions with two other fine performers, soldier, Don José ( Dimitri Pittas) who sacrifices everything for her, as well as those with handsome toreador Escamillo ( Phillip Rhodes) , resulting in José’s jealousy erupting into a thrilling finale.

I am sure audiences will be divided on this modern day treatment but nothing can detract from where the real joy lies which is in the energy and excitement of Bizet’s music filled with passion and drama that builds as the four acts progress.

From the famous Toreador Song to Carmen's provocative Habanera it is impossible not to feel the raw emotions of the characters as it builds to it's gripping finale.

The movement and dance captured the bohemian gypsy spirit of Carmen and was repeatedly celebrated as she danced in front of Don José, and for the soldiers. Then there was the physicality of the bullfighting as well as tantalising performances by Latin and ballroom champion Carmine de Amicis and flamenco and Welsh-born contemporary dancer Josie Sinnadurai.

The fusion dance style contrived to make the setting feel quite general with a dramatic mix of tango, and other Latin American dance styles including lambada and salsa.