Car­men gets it!

OPERA OF THE WEEK

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL - DAVID MEL­LOR

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.

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