Opera Review: Carmen - NZ Opera Company

Both Nino Surguladze and Tom Randle deliver terrific performances in  NZ Opera's Carmen.

Both Nino Surguladze and Tom Randle deliver terrific performances in NZ Opera's Carmen.

Carmen
NZ Opera
Isaac Theatre Royal, until July 22.


Anyone who prefers Carmen as a castanet-clicking, mantilla wearing femme fatale from picturesque old Spain should consider avoiding NZ Opera's new version of Georges Bizet's opera.

Director Lindy Hume has revived her 1992 West Australian Opera production to plunge today's New Zealand audiences into a dark, brutal world of obsessive love, betrayal and violent death. Last night's Christchurch premiere revealed a spellbinding re-interpretation of an opera with music so familiar that it has become difficult to see beyond the potent human tragedy lying behind it. 

Hume sets her cast down in a world of seedy industrial barrios and nocturnal courtyards. Set in early 20th century Spain, this could be the best Carmen that you will ever see; a gritty production which strips away 140 years of encrusted frippery to reveal something infinitely more disturbing and enduring.

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And what a cast it is. Georgian-born Nino Surguladze injects a smouldering power and a dominating presence into the title role. Her rich voice can shift from purring seductiveness to spitting fury in a split-second. She is also an excellent actor, both abilities contributing to a truly memorable performance – perhaps the best I've seen and heard for many years.

As the hapless Don Jose, Tom Randle moves from a repressed Mother's boy to a man consumed by the idea of love rather than its destructive reality. It's a deeply human performance fuelled by a hard-edged, sinewy voice which projects a deeply disturbed character moving towards mental destruction with a chilling realism.

Emma Pearson delivers a luminous performance as Micaela, a deceptively chintzy small town girl with a streak of steel.

Emma Pearson delivers a luminous performance as Micaela, a deceptively chintzy small town girl with a streak of steel.

James Clayton is perfect as the Alpha Male toreador Escamillo, while Emma Pearson as Micaela delivers a luminous performance as a deceptively chintzy small town girl with a streak of steel.

It's difficult to isolate individual singers from a cast of singers so uniformly excellent.

This production contains many extraordinary visual moments – gypsy dancers whirling around a cowering group of once predatory men, the crowds watching an invisible parade of bullfighters and a haunting night scene.

Dan Potra's sets, Matthew Marshall's lighting and Oliver von Dohnanyi's conducting of an inspired Christchurch Symphony Orchestra  all played an essential part in making this a production to remember.

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 - Stuff

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