Opera Scotland

Carmen 2016OperaUpClose

Read more about the opera Carmen

One of the most challenging new ventures in the enterprising Byre in the Botanics summer season was this single performance of Carmen by the small-scale company OperaUpClose - a group that has quickly established an excellent reputation on tour. They perform without chorus, using, in this case, nine soloists accompanied by a band of four located on the right side of the stage.

The new orchestration by Harry Blake, who had previously worked on the company's stagings of La traviata and Don Giovanni, cut the music down to flute, violin, cello and piano. In general terms this worked well - inevitably there were points where the necessary punch was missing, but these were surprisingly few. The new English version by director Robin Norton-Hale also worked well and the singers had notable success at projecting the words in a difficult open-air acoustic.

The production opened in 2015 with a successful seven-week run at the Soho Theatre, London, and was now revived for an extensive UK tour through August and September. This evening then, Friday 29 July,  gave little to indicate any idea that this could have been almost a preview. The drama worked effectively on the restricted stage.

The production was updated to 'a torrid South American landscape of dust and concrete, where small-town boredom and machismo can turn nasty'. This generally worked well. Perhaps less successful was the director's emphasis on the violence of men towards women - it tended to reduce to two dimensions characters who, in this of all operas, are definitely seen as more complex.

Some skilful filletting of the text had been carried out. As with most of these small-scale shows, the soloists fill in essential parts of the chorus - so the seven not required at the end sang the off-stage voices from the bull-ring. Frasquita and Mercédès provided the tobacco-girls' important melodies early on. The subsidiary men were cleverly handled with the two smugglers doubling as soldiers in the opening scene (normally these would be Moralès and the male chorus).

This tour is long and intense, so most of the roles are double- even triple-cast. Several of the team members are names familiar from other touring companies. With this evening's team the performances were consistently good. The women's voices, in particular, projected well in the open space. Flora MacIntosh was a consistently effectiva Carmen. Roisín Walsh's big aria in the third act was beautifully projected (it will be good to hear her in Scottish Opera's Highlights tour next year). The two gypsy girls made good contributions - the smugglers quintet and card trio were notable highlights of the performance. Richard Immergluck fielded a useful baritone and had no problems projecting the awkward Toreador Song. Anthony Flaum was particularly successful in the unhinged sequences late on - the wimpish characterization of José at the start didn't quite work.

The stage band also changes from night to night under the overall supervision of Berrak Dyer. She was not on duty here, but Paul McKenzie was excellent on the keyboard, along with Emily Callaghan (flute), Rosemary Hinton (violin) and Alison Holford (cello).

The company's second programme at St Andrews tonight was an evening of songs and arias derived from Shakespeare - Music Oft Hath Such a Charm.

Performance Cast

Micaëla a peasant girl

Roisín Walsh

Don José a corporal of dragoons

Anthony Flaum

Zuniga a lieutenant of dragoons

Julian Dubreuil

Carmen a gypsy

Flora McIntosh

Frasquita a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Emily-Jane Thomas

Mercédès a gypsy, Carmen’s friend

Melanie Sanders

Escamillo a toreador

Richard Immergluck

Dancaïre a smuggler

Tom Stoddart

Remendado a smuggler

Lawrence Elsworth-Peters

Performance DatesCarmen 2016

Map List

Byre Theatre | St Andrews

29 Jul, 19.00

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