Carmen Royal Opera House, London Until Dec 22
I didn’t think much of Barrie Kosky’s Carmen first time out last February. I called it ‘a sad evening where the nonsense on stage is compounded by second-rate singing’.
This time, some of the singing is a bit better, though Kosky’s concept, ripping Carmen from its context and making much of it look like an episode of Strictly Come Dancing, remains as perverse as ever.
There’s no denying that Kosky is a serious talent; his Saul at Glyndebourne, and his The Nose at Covent Garden, were genuine successes.
But these are pieces on the fringes of the repertoire that need real flair and imagination to command attention. And that’s what Kosky always offers in spades.
Above: Gaëlle Arquez is a generally successful Carmen but the dramatic power of the opera is noticeably absent from this production
However, Carmen is a masterpiece at the heart of the repertoire. It doesn’t need Carmen herself coming on in a gorilla suit, as she does here, or the cast dancing up and down a huge staircase like a Busby Berkeley tribute evening.
Carmen is a focused drama. Kosky totally ignores that in favour of Carmen the show, not Carmen the opera, and never, ever Carmen the tragedy.
Gaëlle Arquez, as Carmen, sings well, looks good and dances OK. But dramatic power is absent. But then I suppose Kosky doesn’t really ask for it.
Her Don José, the American Brian Jagde, is an improvement on Francesco Meli, but on the first night his Flower Song only attracted a ripple of applause. The Russian Alexander Vinogradov at least has all the notes for Escamillo the bullfighter but there’s no charisma.
As for Italian Eleonora Buratto as Micaëla, she’s just plain dull. And to think I once saw Kiri Te Kanawa in this role at Covent Garden.
Which leads me to my main point. An international opera house has, by definition, to offer big international stars. But none of the above is a star. With the partial exception of Gaëlle Arquez, they are jobbing second-raters. Even all the supporting cast, bar one, come from outside Britain. And it’s not as if the casting director was trying to obtain the services of francophone singers to match the libretto. Only two are billed, plus the stand-in Carmen.
I think Covent Garden should take its duty to British talent, of which there is an awful lot these days, much more seriously. And I am not alone in that.
Bryn Terfel Dreams and Songs Out Now
The boyo is back in populist mood, with a range of songs chosen purely for pleasure, by a singer whose personality is as big as his voice. Terfel, has a heart bigger than both, and he wears it on his sleeve in stuff like Amazing Grace, which could sound mawkish and sentimental in other hands but doesn’t here.
He reprises If I Were A Rich Man, the big number from Fiddler On The Roof, a show he played in at Grange Park summer opera a few years back. He lavishes as much care and attention on it as if it were one of Wotan’s soliloquies from the Ring.
Bryn Terfel (above) is joined by a number of different artists on his album which conveys a personality as big as his voice
There’s also a duet from the same show with Emma Thompson. In fact Bryn is joined by a range of artists of different capabilities, from (inevitably) Katherine Jenkins to another big boyo, the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, with a version of Granada that will take the slates off your roof if you play it too loud.
Then there’s some stuff for kids (like me), notably The Hippopotamus Song – ‘Mud, mud, glorious mud/ Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood’. I remember so well the Ian Wallace version, and this is just as good.