Tomáš Hanus’s conducting is a highlight of WNO’s new Carmen in Llandudno

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bizet, Carmen: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera / Tomáš Hanus (conductor). Theatre Cymru, Llandudno, 29.10.2019. (RJF)

Benjamin Bevan, Harriet Eyley, Virginie Verrez, Joe Roche & Angela Simkin in Carmen
(c) Bill Cooper

Director – Jo Davies
Set designer – Leslie Travers
Costume designer – Gabrielle Dalton
Lighting designer – Oliver Fenwick

Carmen – Virginie Verrez
Don José – Dimitri Pattas
Escamillo – Philip Rhodes
Micaëla – Anita Watson
Zuniga – Henry Waddington
Frasquita – Harriet Eyley
Mercédès – Angela Simkin
Moralès – Ross Ramgobin
Dancaïre – Benjamin Bevan
Remendado – Joe Roche
Lillas Pastia/Guide – Gregory A. Smith
Dancers – Josie Sinnadurai, Carmine De Amicis

The Welsh National Opera autumn season at Theatre Cymru, Llandudno, brought one new production (Carmen) and two revivals. Neither revival, Rigoletto nor Janáĉek’s, The Cunning Little Vixen, had been seen for some years whilst Vixen hadn’t been seen at Theatre Cymru in the years since 2003 that I have been reviewing the company’s twice annual visits to the Welsh seaside town.

The new production this season was Bizet’s Carmen. Not unusually in this day and age, it was updated as befits our contemporary operatic habit of Regietheater or Konzept productions. Jo Davies’s new production relocates the action from Seville to, seemingly, a Latin American setting in Brazil. The director, along with her team of Leslie Travers and costume designer Gabriele Dalton, go full hog and update to what looks like a contemporary three storey tenement, which is successfully rearranged for the different act locations. Apart from the first act, when it took some time to realise that the tenements were Carmen’s place of work, it could be said to be acceptable. Particularly striking was how the young children fitted into the scenario and brought necessary vibrancy to the performance that often lacked some sparkle despite the conductor’s hectic tempo for the opening prelude. This latter was due to a lack of sexual allure in Virginie Verrez acted or sung persona. She looked like a virgin out on an early night at a dance. Similarly, she lacked vocal allure, and did not seduce with the spoken French of the Opéra Comique version despite her francophone origins. Add, that her would be lover, sung by Dimitri Pattas, would have sounded better in Wagner that in either lyric Italian or French, singing too often at forte, and not caressing Bizet’s phrases or modulating his tone as the best singers of Don José do. In terms of her acted contribution it could be said that Virginie Verrez only stood out when in couture for Carmen’s suicidal attendance at the bullfight in the final act when she looked like a Parisian model!

Matters improved as Tomáš Hanus got the feel of the theatre. With it came a drawing out the soul of the Act III introduction that was much appreciated by the audience. It would be no over enthusiasm on my part to say the audience were in his pocket by the end of the evening. His presence bodes well for the future of WNO. Among the women better singing and acted portrayals came from Harriet Eyley and Angela Simkin as Frasquita and Mercédès with Anita Watson’s singing and acted portrayal as Micaëla standing out, albeit her costume was somewhat over provincial and dowdy. The male soloist quartet led by the Escamillo of Philip Rhodes and including Henry Waddington as Zuniga, Ross Ramgobin as Moralès and Benjamin Bevan as Dancaïre were efficient rather than startling or particularly francophonic in their contribution.

Robert J Farr

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