Sydney Opera House.
Wed 13 Feb
I don’t often write mid-season reviews but the new Escamillo in the Sydney Opera House Zambello production of Carmen deserves comment. Australian baritone Joshua Bloom replaces American Michael Todd Simpson as advertised (Catherine Carby replaces Ms Chavez from next week). Not since Raymond Myers have I heard such a good Toreador. This role is deceptively difficult, requiring high and low notes of power and projection. It also needs sustained acting skills. The role launches straight into on of the canon’s great pieces, ‘Votre toast … Toréador en garde’, all sitting on horse-back! (see the horse story below).
Having impressed as Dandini in Cinderella recently, it is nice to see that the opera company is giving Mr Bloom more challenging work. He sings the Toreador for the rest of the Carmen season(s). Ms Kirstin Chavez continues to impress as the gypsy femme fatale. She immerses herself into the role, interacting with just about everybody on the crowded stage. Her dancing, prancing and castanet use is dazzling.
I got to the opera house early to see the fine horses waiting by the stage door. Two identical horses of the deepest brown imaginable are in the most immaculate condition. Rather than one being an understudy in the event of the unexpected, it was explained that one is a specialist at ‘bowing’. This will be one of the enduring memories of the production - an equine curtsey curtain call!
I note that Mr Bloom is also performing this role in Melbourne - with mezzo Pamela Helen Stephen (wife of musical director Richard Hickox) as Carmen. The southern capital is also fortunate to have Julian Gavin as Gustavus in Masked Ball in April/May this year.
I fear that no telecast is being made of this excellent Carmen production. It would have an immediate prime time television audience both here and overseas. It appears that Covent Garden retains those rights – let’s hope they use them soon, and with a cast as good as this. Televising operas in Australia used to be done frequently and we have a legacy of Sydney Opera House performances from past decades but none of late for some reason. The technology is easier and probably cheaper and it is now possible to fill a cinema with such telecasts if they are of sufficient quality. Manon Lescaut is next from the Metropolitan, I believe.