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A scene from Carmen. Photo: Mike Hoban A scene from Carmen. Photo: Mike Hoban
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In the light of Catalan director Calixto Bieito’s new Carmen at English National Opera, updated to Franco’s Spain, David McVicar’s Glyndebourne staging, new in 2002 and now revived by Marie Lambert, might seem appreciably less radical. But this is no traditional, sunlit view of Seville. The cramped, industrial cigarette factory could be anywhere, as could the dragoons’ guardhouse it overlooks. Lillas Pastia’s bar is a gloomy basement hideout; and, though there’s no shortage of shawls and mantillas at the Act IV bullfight, the backdrop is a plain, drain-piped, wall. In fact the only real hint that we’re in Seville is the juicy orange that Carmen seductively unwraps while singing her Habanera.

Stephanie D’Oustrac is absolutely winning in this title-role, her sultry confidence only waning in her tragic Act III aria, as the cards reveal her impending death.

D’Oustrac is all the more impressive given that her on–off lover, Don José, sung by Pavel Cernoch, is stiff in character and steely voiced, particularly in the spoken dialogue. Even if the idea is that he has become emotionally numbed by his rejection, his passion for Carmen before the snub doesn’t itself ring true. Lucy Crowe as Micaela comes with lashings of warm-toned vocal balm, David Soar is a credibly heroic (but distinctly uncheesy) Escamillo, and the quartet formed of the two smugglers and Carmen’s two gypsy friends is first rate. There was just a hint of vocal ensembles unfastening from the orchestra on first night, but Glyndebourne’s music director Jakub Hrusa, steers a secure course through the score, even if extremes of fizzing brilliance or dramatic weight or Spanish colour are missing.

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David McVicar’s Carmen may tend towards the austere, but it is almost without exception brilliantly sung