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La Tragedie de Carmen review at Wilton’s Music Hall, London – ‘tongue-in-cheek’

Aigul Akhmetshina in La Tragedie de Carmen at Wilton's Music Hall, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Ahead of Barrie Kosky’s new production of Carmen, due at Covent Garden in February, the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker young artists programme is staging La Tragedie de Carmen at Wilton’s Music Hall.

This radical, small-scale adaptation of Bizet’s evergreen was made in 1981 by Peter Brook and the composer Marius Constant, and first seen at Paris’ Bouffes du Nord, a similarly intimate theatre to Wilton’s.

Director Gerard Jones draws inspiration from its history, suggesting that, for Carmen, la vie est un cabaret. Brook’s original conception was stark and stripped-down, but here there is a black lametta curtain, a stage-wide staircase and singers in garish modern dress – though Don Jose initially channels Che Guevara with his beard and military fatigues.

While Carmen mixes drama and comedy, Jones’ favoured tone is sometimes embarrassingly tongue-in-cheek. In particular, roaring baritone Gyula Nagy sends up the bullfighter Escamillo something rotten, and while Micaela is sumptuously sung by Francesca Chiejina, she lacks toughness.

Thomas Atkins, as the increasingly manic Don Jose, exudes the greatest intensity and his narrow-bore tenor suits French music. He is also the only singer to get the French text across with consistent success. Aigul Akhmetshina strikes seductive poses and sounds opulent, but, if she is to exercise her supposedly endless fascination, Carmen’s words need to mean something.

The evening’s greatest pleasure comes from the stylish playing of the Southbank Sinfonia, placed at the back of the stage, and the often exquisitely-judged conducting of James Hendry.

Verdict
A tongue-in-cheek revival of a radical reimagining of Bizet

Production

Production
La Tragedie de Carmen
Venue
Wilton’s Music Hall
City
London
Starts
November 3, 2017
Ends
November 14, 2017
Press night
November 3, 2017
Librettist
Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Adaptation
Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere
Composer
Bizet
Director
Gerard Jones
Musical director
James Hendry
Set
Cecile Tremolieres
Lighting
Joshua Pharo
Technical
David Gowland (company manager/casting director)
Cast includes
Aigul Akhmetshina, Thomas Atkins, Francesca Chiejina, Gyula Nagy
Producer
Royal Opera House
Running time
2hrs