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Opera review: Carmen — Clownish production leaves us cold

Seductive: Gaëlle Arquez ropes you in with her velvety voice PICTURES: BILL COOPER

REVIEW

Carmen

Royal Opera House, ★★☆☆☆

COLD meta-theatre and tormented passion don’t make the happiest of bedfellows. I don’t suppose anyone will ever again try to yoke Brechtian alienation and Carmen to each other after Barrie Kosky’s infuriating production of Bizet’s opera at Covent Garden.

Set piece: The staircase is a fixture throughout

He sets the whole shebang on a huge staircase (think ‘Hello, Dolly!’ but without the fun) and demands a coolly stylized and highly choreographed acting style from the principals and chorus. There’s plenty of actual choreography too from six deliberately clownish dancers, who almost continuously disrupt the action with cheerleader high kicks and plenty of giggly bumping and grinding. It worked beautifully in Kosky’s staging of Saul at Glyndebourne: here it feels monotonous and tiresome. With no set change to refresh the eye, and a glacial production aesthetic, the result is monumentally uninvolving.

Clowning around: Dancers adds colour but the silliness gets monotonous

Which is all the greater shame when the musical standards are so high. Gaëlle Arquez (as Carmen, replacing an indisposed Ksenia Dudnikova) has a seductive, velvety rich sound and looks terrific. Her clarion-voiced Don José is Brian Jagde, and Alexander Vinogradov (Escamillo) and Eleonora Buratto (Micaëla) offer terrific support. The young Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson keeps things bubbling beautifully in the pit, even though she is forced to employ an idiosyncratic version of the score, which includes lots of material that is usually better cut.

For all their efforts, the cold, dead hand of the production stops any hint of warmth escaping into the story-telling.

Carmen is in repertoire at the Royal Opera House until Dec 22, www.roh.org.uk