Franco-Era Carmen Is Gutsy, Tacky And A Bit Confusing

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 44 months ago
Franco-Era Carmen Is Gutsy, Tacky And A Bit Confusing ★★★☆☆ 3

Picture credit: Alastair Muir

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Spanish director Calixto Bieito is back at the Coliseum with his revolutionary, post-modern and — let's say it — slightly tacky version of Carmen, which made its debut on the very same stage back in 2012.

Lovers of traditional opera will probably dislike this version, although there's no denying Bieito has guts: he switches the sung language from French to English (although all English National Opera productions are in English) and changes the traditional set into a post-modern Franco's Spain. So forget about the fans, the bold flamenco dresses and so on — the only traditional Spanish costume you'll see is the one worn by torero Escamillo at the very end.

The plot itself — an Andalusian story of lust, deceit and troubled love — remains the same. The sensual gypsy Carmen seduces soldier José and convinces him to abandon both his childhood sweetheart and military duties in order to follow her. Yet he loses Carmen, who then falls in love with glamorous toreador Escamillo — her previous lover. Operatic tragedy ensues, carried by the stirring classic score.

The leading role is played by mezzo-soprano Justina Gryngyte, who perfectly represents the role of the femme fatale — a careless and danger-loving Carmen. She's flanked by tenor Eric Cutler who plays a strong and angry Don José. Their powerful performances are well supported by the entire cast of women, men and children who savvily populate the stage during the group scenes.

But although this version of Carmen is bold, controversial and quite explosive, the choice of singing in English makes it lose its essence. And even if we admire Bieito's peculiar production, the post-modern setting isn't entirely convincing either. As we leave the theatre, we can't help feeling a bit confused by the whole thing.

Carmen is on until 3 July at London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4ES. Tickets start from £16, Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket. Carmen will be broadcast live to selected cinemas in the UK and worldwide on 1 July. For further details visit the ENO screen website.

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Last Updated 21 May 2015