Carmen gets it!
OPERA OF THE WEEK
La Tragédie De Carmen Wilton’s Music Hall, London U ntil Tuesday ★★★★★
This is a heart-warming evening, with some outstanding young singers who are interns at the Royal Opera. The choice of venue, Wilton’s Music Hall, is a good one. It’s an ideal size for young voices to project without excessive strain.
The Russian mezzo Aigul Akhmetshina, right, is only in her early 20s, but she has got it all: striking good looks, a vibrant stage presence and a great voice. ‘The new Netrebko,’ a Covent Garden insider confided to me at the interval. She sings Carmen in Peter Brook’s cut-down version of Bizet’s masterpiece, renamed La Tragédie De Carmen, first staged in Paris in 1981. Brook reduces the drama to just the four main characters: Carmen herself, Don José, Micaëla, the girl next door, and the toreador Escamillo, with a small additional singing role, Zuniga.
Brook, a man of the theatre of near genius and happily still with us in his 90s, had Bizet’s music reworked for a small orchestra – here the Southbank Sinfonia under James Hendry.
US soprano Francesca Chiejina got a huge hand for her thrilling Micaëla, in Brook’s version a much more feisty lady than Bizet’s insipid original. The New Zealand tenor Thomas Atkins has a well schooled Italianate voice, and just needs a more commanding stage presence.
My own favourite, as last year, is the Hungarian baritone Gyula Nagy, who sings both Escamillo and Zuniga with great panache. A Zlatan Ibrahimovic lookalike, he combines a fine singing voice with a charismatic stage presence, plus a genuine comic touch, which he uses to great effect sending up the strutting toreador’s mannerisms.
Last year’s Wilton’s choice – Handel – didn’t suit the interns, because none was a baroque specialist. Carmen, by happy contrast, is up everyone’s street.