Opera Review: NZ Opera's Carmen - solid, but unspectacular
St. James Theatre, until June 10.
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. The last two acts develop some real momentum and the final scene is particularly well done. The cast, for the most part, is first-rate. Nino Surguladze is vocally splendid and, dramatically she is a mostly convincing Carmen, and the Micaela of Emma Pearson might just be the star of the show. James Clayton is fine as Escamillo and all the minor roles are taken convincingly. Only that very talented musician Tom Randle is disappointing. In the pivotal role of Don Jose, he seems to me to be miscast, both vocally and dramatically, and this affects the believability of the whole story.
One of the great constants of NZ Opera in Wellington is the chorus, and here they are superbly vibrant and, with the sparkling contribution of the children's chorus, there are times when they almost save this production.
The orchestra, too, under the alert and stylish direction of Francesco Pasqualetti, played splendidly; rhythmically vibrant with particularly crisp brass.
Not the finest Carmen I have experienced, but the sheer professionalism of NZ Opera's core team means that there remains much to enjoy.