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Posts Tagged ‘Georges Bizet’

There’ve been many adaptations of Bizet’s Carmen; this one owes as much to Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones as it does to Bizet’s original. It’s relocated to Cuba at the fag end of Batista’s regime and the start of the revolution and all those latin rhythms and moves unleash a new power. I loved it.

Carmen works in a cigar factory on Cuba’s south coast, where Jose is a military guard. She’s briefly imprisoned in Santiago for fighting and he’s imprisoned for letting her go. Boxer El Nino, en route to his fight in Havana, takes a fancy to Carmen, who follows him with Jose in tow; he can hardly contain his jealousy. The revolution has begun in Havana, but the boxing match goes on, and the tragedy unfolds. It’s presided over by La Senora who appears in many guises, a very clever idea.

Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire has created brilliant Latin arrangements and orchestrations, full of salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha and rumba rhythms. This gives Cuban choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez his starting point, from which he creates some thrilling dancing. Hector Martignon’s twelve-piece band whips up a storm. Tom Piper’s designs are very evocative of the period and the country, fading and falling down but still magical. The surtitles could have been positioned better and there was no need for Sadler’s Wells to replicate Cuban temperatures, but those are my only gripes!

Luna Manzanares Nardo as Carmen has the voice, moves and the sex appeal; she’s terrific. Saeed Mohamed Valdes is a touch restrained as Jose, but his vocals are superb. Joaquin Garcia Mejias has great presence as El Nino. La Senora in her many guises is brilliantly played by Albita Rodriguez. There’s great support from fourteen other actor-singers and ten dancers.

Above all, it’s the enthusiasm and energy of a stage full of Cuban talent that sweeps you away. Christopher Renshaw’s production is an outstanding reinvention of a classic.

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Opera directors regularly take liberties with the work of dead composers, but this isn’t Carmen the opera, and Phil Willmott won’t be the first person to rob Bizet’s grave – Oscar Hammerstein did it for his musical Carmen Jones and Matthew Bourne for his dance piece Car Man. What Willmott has done is create a largely new story, set some 12 years before Prosper Merimee’s novella, on which the book for the opera was based, when Napoleon’s army had taken Spain. It’s inspired by a Goya painting, which appears to have dramatically changed his life. In two highly effective coup d’theatre, they create a tableau of this painting and dramatise the effect on Goya, who is the narrator.

There are elements of Merimee’s  story – the cigarette factory and Carmen herself, now a resistance spy  – but not a bullfight in sight. In essence, it’s the story of a fight for independence, though it sometimes can’t make its mind up if it’s Spain or Catalonia, in recognition of recent events. He’s placed Bizet’s tunes into this story, arranged by Teddy Clements, with new lyrics and book by himself. The recycling of the tunes works well.

Justin Williams & Jonny Rust’s design is excellent, as are the costumes of Penn O’Gara and the lighting of Ben Jacobs, and it’s a great use of the Union’s space. There are some thrilling dances choreographed by Adam Haigh, where recordings of Bizet’s orchestral score are used to rousing effect. Otherwise, it was played on piano, with occasional guitar. Rachel Lea-Gray was very good indeed as Carmen, supported by an enthusiastic and passionate cast of sixteen.

I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but there’s much to enjoy here.

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