Review: Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome

The economics of grand opera these days demand that companies re-cycle some of their tried and tested productions to subsidise the cost of investing in new projects.

Review: Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome

Welsh National Opera can count themselves very fortunate to have this popular 1997 production to revive, as last night’s virtually sell-out audience proved.

There was not only Bizet’s exciting music but also some fine performances from many of the leading singers. One of the outstanding features was the excellent playing by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra under conductor James Southall, especially the Act 3 Entr’acte and the March of the Toreadors in Act 4.

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Carmen is mad, bad and dangerous to know, though Alessandra Volpe found it a little difficult to be sultry and seductive at seven months pregnant (It was her last night in the role), especially when trying to head-butt Don Jose in an attempt to escape her fate. However, her singing was generally impressive, and Peter Wedd as the ensnared soldier Don Jose demonstrated a clear and powerful voice on this occasion.

Jessica Muirhead gave a strong performance as the innocent country girl Michaela, though Simon Thorpe, sometimes off the beat and out of tune, did not really convince as the toreador Escamillo, with a decided lack of swagger and arrogance.

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The chorus work was exemplary, displaying tight ensemble work, and the Act 2 Quintet proved particularly delightful. All in all Caroline Chaney’s revival production has much to recommend it on last night’s evidence, and while the set and costumes may be showing their roots there’s no doubt that Bizet’s music and Prosper Merimee’s tragic tale combine to create one of the most popular operas of all time.

Carmen is repeated tonight, while Moses in Egypt is performed on Friday and William Tell on Saturday.

By Jerald Smith

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