22/06/2017 - 01/07/2017
01/06/2017 - 10/06/2017
13/07/2017 - 22/07/2017
If you’ve never seen Carmen, it’s a tragedy
Thursday 4 May, 2017 – With just four weeks until opening night, the countdown is on for the cast and creatives of New Zealand Opera’s mainstage production of Bizet’s Carmen. The principal cast of four international singers and five Kiwis have flown in from around the globe for New Zealand Opera’s biggest show of the year, with rehearsals underway at the company’s new premises in Auckland.
“This production by Director Lindy Hume is a truthful and theatrical reading of the piece and I am delighted that Lindy is joined by designers Dan Potra and Matt Marshall to recreate the production afresh for New Zealand audiences,” said New Zealand Opera General Director Stuart Maunder.
“With a seemingly endless parade of hit tunes, exotic locale and a sensual heroine, Carmen is for many the perfect opera and it is acknowledged as the most popular opera in the world,” Maunder said.
Hume says Carmen is something of a mid-life rite-of-passage, as she reunites with Dan Potra, her collaborator on that first season.
“Neither of us could possibly imagine that this would be a “breakthrough” production – both our careers pretty much began with Carmen – but we just loved this piece, and I LOVED the character of Carmen. I could relate to her – she was funny, smart, sexy, forthright and deeply messed up.”
“So much has happened since. The world is so different, and so am I. Returning to this project I wondered if I’d recognise that angry, idealistic young feminist, or even if I’d like the production anymore but happily I’m really, really proud of that angry, idealistic young feminist and I think she got Carmen mostly right.
“I’m looking forward to working with New Zealand Opera’s excellent cast on bringing these iconic characters and this tragic, all too familiar story to life for a brand new audience. If it’s still a bit controversial, all the better!”
St James Theatre, Wellington
1-10 June | Book at Ticketek
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland
22 June – 1 July | Book at Ticketmaster
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, Christchurch
13-22 July | Book at Ticketek
Nino Surguladze as Carmen
Tom Randle as Don José
James Clayton as Escamillo
Emma Pearson as Micaëla
Wade Kernot as Zuniga
James Harrison as Moralès / Le Dancaïre
(Dame Malvina Major Foundation Fellow)
Amelia Berry as Frasquita
Kristen Darragh as Mercédès
James Benjamin Rodgers as Le Remendado
Conductor (Wellington/Auckland) - Francesco Pasqualetti
Conductor (Christchurch) - Oliver von Dohnányi
Director - Lindy Hume
Assistant Director - Jacqueline Coats
Production Designer - Dan Potra
Lighting Designer - Matt Marshall
The blood-red heart is well and truly pumping
Review by Jo Hodgson 03rd Jun 2017
Acknowledged as “the most popular opera in the world”, the first performance of NZ Opera’s new season of CARMEN has the St James Theatre a buzz with an excited opening night audience.
As my mother and I take our seats, we marvel at the imposing set of crumbling street facade and reminisce about traveling in Spain together nearly 20 years ago; we can almost smell the streets of Seville.
Francesco Pasqualetti takes the podium and he and Orchestra Wellington transport us back to 19th Century Spain to a story of love and obsession, but also one of self-belief and independent spirit.
Right from the unexpected stage activity in the overture, we realise that the tone, dramatic focus and colour of this production is going to be quite different.
The story still centres around Don José, a soldier so obsessed with the spirited Carmen, he ultimately brings on his own downfall and hers.
The character of Carmen is usually portrayed as flirtatious and seductively manipulative but this portrayal from stunning Georgian singer Nino Surguladze brings a sincerity and honesty to this role that makes us have more sympathy for her, rather than a feeling she brings on her own fate because of her selfish actions.
Not only does she play the role with a quiet fortitude, she shows us how Carmen, although still attractive and seductive, does not let this become her only pathway of communication. Surguladze also depicts her determination, quick wit, intelligence and self-worth, giving her a much more truthful character core.
Her voice is mesmerising: soaring with dramatic power one moment, brazenly dismissive the next, or tearing at our emotions with poignant subtlety.
Tom Randle’s Don José is emotionally charged from start to finish. His inner turmoil eventually completely over-rides all reason and turns him into a delusional and broken man, like a drug-starved addict. At times I feel his intensity of character squeezes the openness of his higher vocal tessitura but when he lets fly – wow!
In this production, director Lindy Hume and production designer Dan Potra, are revisiting their take on a Carmen from much younger days when, as Hume says, she was “an angry, idealistic young feminist”.
Within this feminist take, we see Micaëla (Emma Pearson) taking on a much stronger character portrayal than in previous productions I’ve seen or been in. She is still the kind country girl, but she is not mild or meek. She uses her intellect and humour to deflect the advances of soldier Moralès (James Harrison) in Act 1 and in the interactions with the deranged Don José, after her beautiful aria ‘Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante’in Act 3, we see her surprising physical strength and determination as she pushes him away from Carmen.
This re-reshaping of an iconic opera is such a visceral and believable presentation that we feel completely transported with the journey of the characters. We are not just witnessing great actors performing for us, we are in there with them empathetically rooting for or against them. It’s impossible not to be moved.
Right from the opening number the strong themes of the objectification of women and the violence towards them, whether physical or mental, are played to the fore. There is none of the romanticised traditional direction but the eye is firmly on the story of the characters and their interactions with others.
The overt or suggestive element of threat, fear and control which is disturbingly evident at the beginning of Act 2 in Lillas Pastia’s inn, where a young woman reluctantly dances surrounded by a drunk Zuniga (Wade Kernot) and his leering soldiers, underpins so much of this production. This isn’t always directed at the women – and they get their chance to turn the tables on the men too – but also in the hierarchy in the regiments, and with the smugglers gang.
In keeping with reality rather than archetype, the costuming has muted colours and styles rather than the expected bright reds and flamenco ruffles. Even Toreador Escamillo – a commanding and rich voiced James Clayton – is dressed as a suave gentleman in a flowing wool coat and hat rather than any hint of a traditional Toreador outfit.
In the smugglers scenes the women are also dressed in trousers but cleverly, when the use of their feminine edge is required to divert the customs officer’s attention, they purposely dress in the stereotype frilled dresses and take on a more caricatured flirtatious manner, so it becomes like a mask to put on and off rather than the expected behaviour.
Even though this production takes a much more raw approach, there is still much playfulness, especially in the opening scenes. The camaraderie between the relaxing soldiers led by a cocky Moralès (James Harrison), for example, and the delightful interaction of the young street urchin children’s chorus mimicking the changing of the guard.
Carmen’s friends, Frasquita (Amelia Berry) and Mercédès (Kirsten Darragh), perform with an infectious spirit, especially in the Act Three card song and also when they energetically join Le Dancaïre (James Harrison), Le Remendado (James Benjamin Rodgers) and Carmen in the Act Two Quintet ‘Nous avons en tête une affaire’.
The chorus look and sound fabulous. Every member plays their part to paint the picture of this rich story. Nothing is over-acted or ‘performed’; see the natural personalities and day to day activities of the people in different locations are clear. These scenes are also cleverly embellished with stylised circular movement and cluster formations; with striking lighting and accentuated slow-motion action to give the illusion of an even bigger crowd.
Bizet’s magical score is brought to life through the expressive and skillful playing of Orchestra Wellington. The balance is perfect from where I am sitting and the sounds dance around Dan Potra’s set with Matt Marshall’s lighting as they beautifully realise the varying locations and atmospheres. The imposing walls and staircases move into various positions to create everything from the bright street scenes to Lillas Pastia’s Inn; the smugglers’ hideout to the threatening enclosed alleyway outside the walls of the bullring, where Carmen meets her dramatic end.
The lighting at the beginning of Act Three is magically evocative, depicting the dead of night in the mountains as the smugglers slowly come into focus making their way to their hideout.
When updating or challenging the interpretation of traditional stories in opera, the director still needs to be aware that they need to ‘speak’ to audiences who have come before, as much as to invite the audiences who are new to this genre or story in this day and age. Lindy Hume gets this totally right in my view.
The classic red of a traditional Carmen may not be visually present, but the blood-red heart is well and truly pumping through this incredible and thought provoking production.
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Solid Carmen lacks tension
Review by John Button 03rd Jun 2017
Although I am assured that bookings are fine for this re-visiting to the world of Carmen, the opening-night audience was a bit thin. Maybe this contributed to a feeling – right from the outset – that this production lacked a sense of excitement and tension.
The sets – this is a quite an old Australian production – appeared tired, although, it must be said, they are very functional, and the costuming, while suitable for loitering army personnel and the ladies from the cigarette factory, lacked a contrasting colour and exoticism; Escamillo, for example, could , at some stage, have appeared in all his matador glory. We were told that this production presents Carmen as a feminist figure although, to me, she seemed just as flighty as in any other of the many productions I have experienced.
Having said all this, I must say that the opera finishes better than it starts. [More]
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