Opera Queensland

26th October – 10th November 2012

QPAC Lyric Theatre


Reviewed by Miss Lynnie


Music by Georges Bizet

Libretto by Meilhac and Halevy

Novella by Merimee

Artistic Director: Lindy Hume

Conductor: Emmanuel Joel-Hornak

Revival Director: Matthew Barclay


American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez as Carmen. Photo by Branco Gaica.

Free she was born, and free she will die!

Bizet’s iconic tale of passion unfolds when a fight breaks out at a cigarette factory in a Seville square, and Carmen – a gypsy – is arrested by the soldier Don José. Carmen quickly seduces him but like many before him, Don José’s attempts to tame the freedom-loving beauty are futile. His obsession with her turns to murderous rage when she leaves him for the famous toreador, Escamillo.

I wonder if Prosper Merimee’s short-story on which Bizet’s Carmen is based has been read since the romantic opera was first performed at the Opera-Comique, Paris, on 3 March 1875? Of all the oft-performed operas, Carmen surely contains the most convincing narrative structure and fully drawn characters who include not only a doomed but passionate hero, but a similarly fatalistically destined heroine. Perhaps we each like to think there is something of this in us ordinary mortals? Oh, but naturally we would forego Carmen’s stiletto knifing through the heart, and Don José’s imprisonment, or his suicide via the aforementioned stiletto.

Opera Queensland’s Artistic Director Lindy Hume has chosen an Opera Australia production, which in turn was based on a 2006 Covent Garden co-production with the Norwegian National Opera. It is, therefore, a ‘classic’ interpretation and is indeed, a venerable performance; so do not fear that this Carmen has undergone a modern rethink, or a restaging to set it in a particular epoch such as 1930s politically divisive Berlin, or the currently popular, politically incorrect 1950s era just to allow incorporation of the glorious and vibrant frocks. In this Carmen the wardrobe mistress fulfils our expectation of sexy Spanish damsels dressed in fitting bodices worn with skirts of many-tiered flounces, with muted pigments of browns and yellows and with only a touch of colour. It was actually a darkened, subdued setting all round, with the lighting designer (Paule Constable) choosing subtle illumination that cast rather wonderful shadows to all areas of the rusted-yellow earthen adobe walls that comprised the set. This archetypal Spanish set conceived by Tanya McCallin was simple but effective, except perhaps for the Smugglers Mountain Retreat in Act III, where a sort of shade sail roof was hoisted above the floor and strung hammock-like between the re-arranged adobe walls. It could have been another part of town rather than a remote mountain hideaway; fine if you’re intimate with and know the opera, or took time to read and recall the synopsis while taking in the show, but not so obvious to first-timers who may not have studied European partisan history.



American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez as Carmen. Photo by Branco Gaica.



Love’s a bird that lives in freedom


American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chavez considers Carmen to be her signature role and has performed her Carmen from Japan to just about everywhere. Our Brisbane audience was delighted to have her captivate it as the rebellious, spirited, saucy, sparkling, uncaged bird. Kirstin plays a capricious beauty with flashing eyes and passionate, reckless emotions. Wouldn’t we all like to be like this?



American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez as Carmen. Photo by Branco Gaica.


Oh why did fate ever decree we two should meet!


laments a woebegone Don José. The devil has the best songs, but our guileless Don José has a couple of matchless tenor tunes. Is there a more heartfelt love tale set to music than La fleur que tu m’avais jeteé? He declares, “I was enslaved”. And so was I! Ukrainian tenor, Konstantin Andreiev, as Don José, is poetically handsome with flowing locks. He sings expressively with a soft, gentle and raw quality of sound. Andreiev’s acting skills allowed us to go with him in his deterioration from dignified and decent young man to a state of impassioned, obsessive jealousy. He was convincing both visually and vocally.  Konstantin has also performed absolutely everywhere. He is well cast in the romantic tenor role, and his Rodolfo (La Bohème) would be as pleasing as his Don José. It’s hard to imagine that he always loses the girl in these fables.

The gentle country maiden in Madonna blue, Micaela, played by Lecia Robertson, has two poignant songs that act as a counterpoint to Carmen’s voluptuous lustfulness. Micaela’s goodness and enduring love for Don José is expressed in their sweet duet, in which Don José recalls his attachment to his mother and his village. He is duty bound to marry Micaela, but unfortunately, Carmen desires him and she will make him her next lover.

As Escamillo, the toreador and Carmen’s latest conquest, José CarbÓ did not disappoint, especially in his rendition of the opera’s signature aria, ‘Votre toast je peux vous le rendre’. In this he was ably accompanied by the rousing Opera Queensland Chorus, which made a major contribution throughout and rounded out this production.

The Spanish essence of Carmen is embodied in the Flamenco dancing that particularly sets the gypsy scene with its rousing and bold statement.  The seven official flamenco dancers in the cast, particularly the men, provided an exciting accompaniment for Carmen to dance sensually, in keeping with her ravenous gypsy daring. She is a coquette, she dances.

Treatment of the finale is dependent on the interpretation of the director. While this production ends with Carmen and Don José left lifeless on the stage, with Escamillo’s triumph sounding from the adjacent bullring, some have Escamillo, Carmen’s new love, emerging victorious from the bull ring and glowing with triumph, ready to embrace Carmen but finding death instead – the Greek tragedy of Don José and Carmen.

The opera Carmen is a jewel of perfection. There are no dull interludes that linger or drift off until the next soaring aria. Bizet has created wonderful tunes sprinkled liberally throughout the dramatic story.  He has composed a heavenly gift to all; Opera Queensland does a fine job of his Carmen.


Carmen and Don Jose

American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez as Carmen with Ukrainian tenor Konstantin Andreiev as Don José: Photo by Branco Gaica.



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