Review: Carmen is fiery, saucy…and a bit flat

Pic: Jeni Clegg

Pic: Jeni Clegg

Richard Lutz takes a seat for that juggernaut of an opera, Carmen

Who: Welsh National Opera

Where: Birmingham Hippodrome

If there is one way to fill the vast Hippodrome, it must be to stage Carmen. It is fiery, sultry, a firecracker to rouse the spirits,  inflame the senses.

But this one seems a bit flat. It is set in 18th century Seville, the story of fast and loose factory girls who keep soldiers dancing on the ends of their fingers.

But the set is muddied, blurred, all sombre dark reds and browns. And despite the usual hit standards from composer Bizet and the WNO, it does’t inflame anything, nor even kindle a twig or two of the soul.

The book is well known: factory girl Carmen, brash, romantic, seductive, attracts soldier Don Jose. He gives up everything, his girl, his military career, his self respect, to dote on his pouting lover.

Then her heart turns to the bullfghter Escamillo. And it turns bad for Don Jose, and fatally, Carmen.

But nowhere did I feel the world of Andalucian colour, sun, heat and heightened passion.  Alessandra Volpe, full-bodied and swaggering, does deliver on the big numbers and Simon Thorpe,  all leathers and male macho, is fantastic as the toreador.

But it’s that drab set design, and the equally muted costumes, that slowly let the production down.

WNO offers up Carmen as part of its Liberty or Death season. Carmen is a rustic feminist. She wants to live her life the way she wants. And Bizet’s composition does return time and again to that thread of thought. The opera  is part of a  WNO mini season in Birmingham along with a double Rossini package – both William Tell and the lesser known Moses in Egypt.

Carmen ends tonight. The other two are on until 22nd November

Tickets: 0844 338 5000

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