Sex and death are most definitely subjects with enduring appeal, and the opera Carmen has both by the bucket-load, says Candia McKormack


Sex and death are most definitely subjects with enduring appeal, and the opera Carmen has both by the bucket-load, says Candia McKormack

I’ve never seen Carmen open in quite such dramatic style.

Mickaela stands sobbing to the side of a darkened stage as a bruised and bloodied Don Jos� is led by a soldier through the audience and onto centre stage. As Mickaela’s sobbing becomes more guttural, a bag is placed over the prisoner’s head, the soldier raises the gun… and fires.

Darkness falls, and an audience, some of whom may have been expecting an evening of light entertainment, are shocked into silence.

I’ve brought my six-year-old daughter, Carmen, to see the opera performed live on stage for the first time. It proves to be a wonderful experience for both of us and, other than asking for confirmation once or twice that the killing and fighting is ‘just pretend’, she is absolutely transfixed.

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It has been several years since the Playhouse has had opera performed on its stage, and tonight’s auditorium is filled to capacity. Maria Jagusz’s talent as a director, and as a lauded mezzo-soprano in her own right, together with a first-rate cast and crew has obviously stirred the good people of Cheltenham to get out of their armchairs.

The role of Carmen herself is played by Cheltenham girl Alice Nelson. The rich timbre of her voice is perfect for the role; as well as technical excellence, she has the depth of vocal range and personality to portray both the playfulness of the lighter aspects of the gypsy girl and the dark depths of her character when crossed. Daniel Joy’s Don Jos� is the delightfully tragic hero, torn between the homely love of childhood sweetheart, Mickaela (Elizabeth Karani), and the dark passions of the gypsy temptress. You really do get a sense of the tragic helplessness of his situation… he doesn’t stand a chance!

Mention too must be made to the excellent choreographer Marie-Louise Flexen. The whole production was beautifully choreographed, but it was her solo performances that really brought the house down. Playing the ‘bull’ to Escamillo’s (Rhys Jenkins) toreador was an astonishing and powerful piece of choreography, and her flamenco dance at the beginning of Act IV was a delight to watch. Pure gypsy passion.

A playful addition to the cast is Betty the dog. The last time I saw a dog involved in a production of Carmen was watching an al fresco performance in the headmaster’s garden near to King’s School, Gloucester. During a fight scene between two soldiers, the headmaster’s dog, thinking it was a couple of ruffians really kicking off on his patch, decided the only thing to do would be to crash the stage and intervene. The hero of the night.

I would urge you go along to see Carmen tonight for the final performance but, well, it’s sold out. So, what I will say is keep an eye on MJ-UK Productions Ltd and whatever they have coming up, and enjoy a night that will stay with you for a very, very long time.

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