Virginie Verrez as Carmen. Picture: Bill Cooper


Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


If this production of Bizet’s Carmen by the WNO was your first time seeing this work then you simply would have no reference to understand just how far from the original this current adaption by Director Jo Davies has travelled.

The programme notes clearly reference the #MeToo movement and voice some kind of fear in not being aware (awoke) in anyone’s creative dilemma of depicting violence against women in an entertainment form.

It seems the BBC have no such issue along with most other networks with their weekly obsession with murder so why this famous and stunning opera should be reworked to accommodate any potential critic is lacking in either understanding an intelligence audience or devoid of creative backbone.

So the setting for Carmen is now a poor, concrete-built and guerrilla infested South American town with the resistance fighting for freedom against some oppressive regime. The temptress Carmen is now somehow a Lara Croft lookalike with the manners of Ripley from Alien treating her male captors with as much contempt and just stopping short of employing a flamethrower.

It’s actually quite an entertaining idea visually but a long, long way from Bizet’s simple tale of this dark crime of passion. In this distortion of Carmen there is then, by default, a reimagining of the motives of just about everyone who surrounds her.

Is José just another weak male idiot, are her companions Mercedes and Frasquita complicit in her actions and is the poor Micaela just another plain bullied schoolgirl taunted by Carmen and her in-crowd?

Putting all of this aside there is some powerful and beautiful moments of music and singing featuring some individual touches of pure emotion. In contradiction to her tattoos and Tomb Raider vest, Virginie Verrez sings with a soft maturity that defies her youthful image with a warm mezzo. Stealing the limelight and our hearts throughout is Anita Watson as Micaela whose delivery is both passionate and heartfelt conjuring Bizet’s romantic melodies with ease.

Dmitri Pittas in the role of Don José took a while to warm to and although his delivery is fitting and strong he lacked the desperation of a man intoxicated by jealousy and love that would be so moved his final violent act. Angela Simkin as Mercedes and Harriet Eyley as Frasquita both also shone when required too.

The handsome Phillip Rhodes made quite an entrance as Escamillo, looking more like a 50’s Hollywood screen idol than the famous Toreador.

Whilst in reality there is no real issue with Jo Davies’ interpretation of her Carmen, her resulting production simply asks an ongoing question . . .

Should everything in our past, our history as a civilisation and all our actions, along with the enduring legacy of our creative works, be tampered with and realigned to accommodate either our guilt or our sensitivity to any perception or interpretation of wrongdoing?

After all `Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame’ (Bizet).

Jeff Grant


Carmen will be back in action on 8 November while Rigoletto is performed on 6 and 9 November and The Cunning Little Vixen on 7 November.  

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