Louis, Tracy, Zuniga and Micaëla – not necessarily in that order – were the stars of this revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 production of Carmen, since horse, donkey, Lieutenant and Good Girl all put in flawless performances in Duncan Macfarland’s re-staging. Paule Constable’s ever-poetic lighting, compensating so much, as her designs often do, for a production that is only intermittently engaging also adds to the evening’s success, as does the orchestra under Bertrand de Billy.
Louis the horse and Tracy the donkey, non-speaking through their roles were destined to be, gave their scenes that extra touch of authenticity, adding to the mix of heat, bullfighting, religious ceremony and late night dining which all say ‘Spain.’ Nicolas Courjal’s Zuniga displayed an exceptionally fine bass, but it was his French diction which marked him out, falling like sweet balm upon our ears in the midst of much that was, to put it politely, woolly.
Micaëla is often the audience favourite, for all the obvious reasons, and here the performance of the Australian soprano Nicole Car justified the response, with beautifully poised, sweet-toned singing and immaculate phrasing; Ms Car was making her house debut, and a most auspicious one it was – she’ll be back in December to sing Tatyana in the revival of Kasper Holten’s production of Eugene Onegin.
Elena Maximova has a very distinctive voice, especially rich in the lower registers and capable of negotiating the more taxing phrases with aplomb, but her Carmen was hampered by rather cloudy diction and a somewhat over-busy approach to acting. There was not much sense of a smouldering passion between her and Brian Hymel’s stalwart, decent Don José – Hymel was clearly not in his best voice on this occasion, so it was difficult to imagine the searing emotions of ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’ or the despair of the lovers’ final moments.
Alexander Vinogradov cuts a fine figure on a horse, but his singing is on the dry side and he is not exactly the toreador to win any girl’s heart; in fact, pushed to choose between him and Don José, Carmen might well do better to dump them both for Zuniga. Her friends Frasquita and Mercédès were strongly characterized by Vlada Borovko and Michèle Losier respectively, and Grant Doyle and Timothy Robinson made their mark as the two smugglers.
Whether or not you are annoyed by children onstage, you’d have to admit that the ones on show here did manage to stay on the right side of irritating: the singing ones were from the ROH Youth Company, trained by Suzi Zumpe and William Edelsten, and the tumbling urchins came from Stagecoach. The less said about the twerking of the female chorus, the better, but overall the choreography lived up to Arthur Pita’s usual high standard – it had been revived here by Sirena Tocco.
Bertrand de Billy directed a vibrant, swift account of the score, whipping up a storm in the overture and providing some wonderful moments of quieter contemplation such as the concluding bars to Micaëla’s aria. The production is colourful without being garish, Tanya McCallin’s designs still look fresh and there’s nothing to balk at in the characterization, but it’s a fairly unremarkable staging which really needs a lot more charisma from its two principals; it’s likely that there will be plenty of that when Anita Rachvelishvili and Jonas Kaufmann take them on for just two performances in November.