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01 February, 2008

Carmen gala opening at Sydney Opera House - Chavez and Zambello wow them!

Sydney Opera House

24 Jan 2008

This Carmen is a smash hit with a big splash of colour, light, smoke, fabrics and, of course, music and quality vocalising.

American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavez is indeed the focus of the evening and she was unfaultable. She sang, danced and sexed her way to the ultimate lonely death scene outside the noisy Seville bullring. She did something I have never heard before and that was to ‘purr’ on stage even before we even heard her sing! And the oestrogen, adrenalin, steroids and every other hormone at peak levels, she stole the show, being worthy of all the publicity.

All the other characters also had their good points: Rosario La Spina sang beautifully as Don José despite being a more-than-imposing figure on stage. His flower song was perfection and the flower motif was used throughout the production at crucial times including sprinkled petals at the bloody finale.

Michael Todd Simpson looked good as the tall and handsome Toreador yet he had some vocal difficulties on opening night. He ‘curdled’ two high notes and had inadequate low notes for this difficult aria. It seems odd that no Australian was chosen for this role, a deceptively difficult one for the baritone voice.

Sarah Crane was a suitably homely Micaela with a large if undistinguished voice.

The movable set used deep ochre colours with stylised ramparts and fenestrations reminiscent of Federation Square, cut down to ‘village square’ proportions. A large, laden orange tree would have looked even better had it not been for a slight wobble. There was a donkey at the rear of the set in Act I and the bullfighter arrived on horseback in Act II. At one stage there was a real hen clucking on stage, completing the animal ‘unities’. The production overall is most original and gratifying … and it is remarkable what can be done on this small, cramped stage. Francesca Zambello’s genius takes some extraordinary detail from the story into her brilliant production.

The costumes were lush ‘Victorian Iberian’. From smart military uniforms to rag-clad children, all were appropriate and tasteful.

The tempi under Maestro Hickox were excellent with the overture taken at a cracking pace while the famous arias were taken a little slower than is usual, but with good effect. The orchestra sounded marvellous with the prominent brass sections (some on-stage) being accurate and substantial.

While Carmen is not my favourite opera, it is the world’s most favourite opera and this production should bring in the crowds for many seasons to come.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..