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Carmen review at the Grange, Hampshire – ‘acute insights’

Marianne Croux and Na'ama Goldman in Carmen at the Grange, Hampshire. Photo: Robert Workman Marianne Croux and Na'ama Goldman in Carmen at the Grange, Hampshire. Photo: Robert Workman
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In some respects Annabel Arden’s treatment of Bizet’s opera is radical. Almost all of the dialogue goes, to be replaced by an English-language narration spoken by actors Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu.

This might have been a portentous device, but so skilful at explaining the plot is Meredith Oakes’ text, and so enlivening the actors’ dual commentary, that it works. More dubious are a handful of cuts to the score – none of them advantageous.

In this production movement and elements of design are shared responsibilities. Visually the result is largely abstract, or else self-consciously located on a stage; but since the opera’s traditional Spanish setting is well known even to first timers, maybe it needs no further underlining.

More importantly, Arden’s blending of the realistic and the conceptual makes for an intellectually stimulating as well as an effective evening’s theatre, while her exploration of the gender, class and racial politics underlying the action is focused and thought-provoking.

Both vocally and dramatically, high standards are consistently maintained in the central performances. Like Don Giovanni, Carmen herself has to step onto the stage and immediately convince every member of the audience of her sexual allure – a task Israeli mezzo Na’ama Goldman achieves effortlessly, combining her intelligent portrayal with clean-edged, meaningful vocalism.

Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo presents Don Jose’s disturbing disintegration with varied and purposefully expressive tone. American soprano Shelley Jackson’s Micaela is strong-willed and individual – a necessary makeweight to Carmen in the dramatic scheme – while New Zealand baritone Phillip Rhodes’ Escamillo combines a macho image with inner emotional sensitivity. The secondary roles are all carefully sketched in.

Vital engagement from both the festival’s chorus and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud highlighting many subtle details as well as the overwhelming emotional punch of Bizet’s score.

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Annabel Arden’s new look at Bizet’s opera provides some acute insights