Carmen the blonde bombshell

Helen Sherman ANL-141111-171854001
Helen Sherman ANL-141111-171854001
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Review: Carmen, Mid Wales Opera, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Carmen the opera conjures up the sultry tension of fickle love in the sweltering streets of Seville where dark-eyed temptress and gypsy Carmen sparks a tragic series of events.

In Mid Wales Opera’s 25th anniversary version we get an Australian blonde bombshell rather than a sex bomb and an overall absence of sparks between the main characters.

This is not to say that Helen Sherman in the key role isn’t a fine singer and actor. She sashays gently during her seductive dance for the lumbering Don José, rather than go for full-on Flamenco-style to entrap her man.

Adding to the blandness, there are no sexy costumes and the only colour in the set is the poppy which Carmen sticks on top of Don José’s rifle.

Director Jonathan Miller admits he was disconcerted by the fact that the limited budget meant that the traditional Spanish scenery could not be realised and the customary large chorus. He argues that dramatic aspects are often compromised in traditional versions. He says the English translation by Rory Bremner helped him to reconsider an opera in which the audience so often expects to enjoy exotic scenery and flamboyantly seductive dancing.

Well, I’m sorry, but they did expect it last night in Bury St Edmunds.

The small is beautiful ensemble of singers and chamber sized orchestra conducted artfully by Nicholas Cleobury were excellent performers; I particularly enjoyed the smoky sax and café style band whilst the tobacco girls, soldiers and then smugglers drank and smoked the night away.

I enjoyed the self deprecating and suave toreador Escamillo played with humour by Nicholas Lester. I appreciated the swagger of the soldiers in their 1930s uniforms. And I liked the dodgy allure of the smugglers.

But, I felt robbed when the final tragic scene was played coolly with an absence of menace or tension and by the backstage cop-out of a gunshot which dispatched the leading lady.