Reviewed by Jan Dixon
This review is based on the opening night of Carmen on Tuesday 26th November 2019, performed by the Welsh National Opera at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. The Welsh National Opera was founded in 1943 by a group of people from across south Wales including miners, teachers and doctors and continues to perform across the UK with great success.
The music of Carmen was composed by Georges Bizet and was first performed on March 3rd 1875 in Paris. It was not received well by the first audience, as it was considered that the main character of Carmen was a woman with loose morals; scandalising the public at the time. Today Carmen is seen as the embodiment of female liberty and free will; which was so aptly presented by Director Jo Davies and the Music Director Tomas Hanus. The performance was sung in French with English subtitles.
Carmen is in four acts with a running time of three hours including an interval after Act Two. This production of Carmen, by Jo Davies, is set in 1970’s Central America. The stage design, by Leslie Travers, had a curve of tiered galleries looking onto a courtyard, creating the impression of slums or favelas, inhabited by the poor workers of the city. These included the cigarette factory women, who were the main characters in the story; with Carmen as a free spirited and dominant seductress. Virginie Verrez played Carmen as a very feisty women; a leader and manipulator of both men and women. She had an impressive vocal range and sang with great passion and emotion. Dimitri Pittas as Don Jose was a central character, playing the soldier Carmen seduced and then discarded for her next conquest; Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. Both male leads brought out the differing passions and despairs they felt for Carmen through their emotive vocal prowess; excellent foils for the storyline. Another stand-out performance was by Anita Watson as Micaela, the spurned love interest of the hapless Don Jose. Her amazing soprano range was beautiful, with just the right amount of soulful wistfulness expressing the yearning for her lost love.
There were many supporting cast members, all of whom presented their roles and singing ability superbly. Very competent harmonising and backing vocals enhanced the performance. A cast of young people relished their opportunity to play their part as rebellious children, caught up in the disparate lifestyle of the gypsy troupe. Dancers also had an important role in setting the scene of a gypsy wildness and exoticism; showcasing their well-rehearsed dance moves.
The orchestra was magnificent and very ably conducted by Tomas Hanus, with searing instrumentals entrancing the audience. There are many instantly recognisable arias in Carmen and it was a pleasure to hear them being played so well and with such obvious passion. Habanera in Act 1 and Toreador in Act 2 in particular were stirring and rousing in equal measures.
Very highly recommended; definitely worth a 5 star rating! If you get the chance, do go and see it while you can; another performance of Carmen is on Friday 29th November 2019 at 7.15 pm.
The Mayflower Theatre is close to railway links with a variety of car parks close-by. It is advisable to check the nearby Southampton football club fixtures as this can have an impact on the volume of traffic entering/leaving Southampton. Do allow for this when travelling to the venue. The theatre itself has recently been refurbished and looked stunning, with comfortable seating and plenty of leg room. Staff were very welcoming with a high standard of customer care.
Tickets cost from £16 to £52 (booking fees may apply).
Welsh National Opera Carmen is at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from 26-29 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811