Scottish Opera’s Carmen
IF anyone was banking on Scottish Opera’s production of Carmen bringing some Spanish sunshine to a dark Highland night in October, then they might have been disappointed.
True there was plenty of warmth in the voices telling Bizet’s story of passion and desire in old Seville, but the design opted for the muted colours of Goya’s darker paintings rather than reflect its setting.
Sometimes that worked well. As an atmospheric start to the second half, the sight of the gang of smugglers emerging from the darkness with their torches burning red like the eyes of wild beasts would be hard to beat.
However, it would have been nice if the gloom had lifted after that so you could at least make out which characters were singing.
Fortunately the musical aspect of the opera was hard to fault, right from Bizet’s stirring overture performed by an orchestra worthy of star status themselves.
Of course the main stars here were New York tenor Noah Stewart as Don Jose and the 2015 International Opera Awards Young Singer of the Year, mezzo soprano Justina Gringyte.
Returning to the title role just months after she played the same role for English National Opera, the Lithuanian singer suits the classic Gypsy look, all swirling skirts and jangling jewellery, singing and playing the castanets — and in time — with the confidence of a woman well aware of the power she has over men.
Her voice is steely strong and emotional as she comes to fear the fate that her brattish behaviour will inevitably lead too.
It is an impressive performance, but Stewart also makes a mark as a vulnerable Don Jose who is helplessly infatuated with Carmen then lashes out in frustration when he is rejected, finally allowing his voice to soar as he reaches breaking point.
Still, the silly girl should have stuck with the handsome Don Jose rather than opt for the mullet-headed matador Escamillo, despite Roland Wood’s spirited rendition of The Toreador Song.
There was also a scene stealing appearance or two from a junior chorus, the youngsters acquitting themselves in performing the complicated French lyrics and even showing up a couple of their older cast mates in a well drilled piece of stagecraft where the action slows as the crowds watch the bullfighters parade.
Perhaps not the most sensual, or sensational, reading of Bizet’s story, this revival of its 1999 production still offers a solid performance of a much loved opera with more than its share of memorable moments, even if it was more a feast for the ears than the eyes.
• Scottish Opera’s production of Carmen by Georges Bizet continues at Eden Court’s Empire Theatre on Thursday 29th and Saturday 31st October at 7.15pm.