Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm Tues 8th, Thurs 10th and Sat 12th November 2011
Duration: 2hrs 50min incl interval
Tickets: adult $55-170/conc $45-140
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or http://www.bass.net.au
Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen, is one of the best known and most popular operas ever written and it is State Opera's final production for this year. In a highly successful end to the year, every ticket for this production had been sold before the opening night. Those who are lucky enough to have tickets are going to be glad that they booked early.
Over four acts we get to know a lot about the beautiful and flirtatious gypsy girl, Carmen, or Carmencita, and it all reinforces what she tells us in Act 1, that she will only love a man who does not love her. A corporal, Don José, who once killed a man and joined the army after fleeing his home, becomes the object of her attention. He falls for her, and that is his downfall. She is arrested after a fight with another girl and he lets her escape, being jailed and demoted for his crime.
He eventually deserts and joins the gypsy smuggler band, with whom Carmen lives. Now that he loves her, she tires of him, however, and sets her cap at the famous and popular torero, Escamillo. Don José's mother is ill and he leaves to see her, accompanied by Micaela, the girl his mother sent to fetch him and, hopefully, to be his wife. In the final Act Escamillo enters the bullring with the rest of the procession and the crowd, but Carmen waits outside to speak to Don Jose, who has just returned. They argue, and the tragic conclusion to their affair ends the opera.
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra were like greyhounds flying out of the gate as Conductor, Alexander Briger, led them into the opening of the overture at a cracking pace. Hearing the overture played at this speed, with remarkable clarity and precision, says a lot for our orchestra, especially when we recall that, when it was first written, there were complaints that much of the music was unplayable. The orchestra's playing is impeccable, as always.
The curtain rises on a square in Seville, complete with a real orange tree, fruiting in the centre. Tanya McCallin's basic set is used for all four Acts, with sections being swung around to different locations and lit in numerous ways by Paule Constable so that it looks very different each time. Act 3, for example, is the smuggler's camp at night time, complete with real flames in the camp fires around which the gypsies huddle.
This is Spain, so there absolutely has to be lots of dancing to go with the music, and Arthur Pita's choreography has plenty to offer, with lots of dancing from both soloists and chorus, and seven featured specialist flamenco dancers joining the company to add an extra level of authenticity. Carmen herself even sings, dances flamenco and plays castanets, all at the same time.
And that brings me to Carmen. This has got to be the sexiest Carmen, both the production as a whole and the portrayal of the character in particular, that you are ever likely to see. Mezzo-soprano, Milijana Nikolic, is nothing short of stunning in the title role, giving a performance by which future productions will have to be judged. She dominates the stage whenever she appears, exuding a powerful presence that screams 'star quality'. There is something very feline in the way that she moves around the stage and then, when she begins to sing, Nikolic puts the cherry on the cake. Her warm voice is perfect for the role and she gives a seductive and sensual performance, filling her singing with all of the passion and emotion that this role demands.
Rosario la Spina is a great Don José and the electric connection we witness in the intense scenes between José and Carmen, which could well have something to do with the fact that he is Milijana Nikolic's real life husband, sparkle and crackle with a fiery, lustful desire, eventually descending into almost sadomasochistic grittiness as their love shifts to hatred and violence when her attentions wander elsewhere. Rosario la Spina shows us a remarkable range of emotions as his character goes from disinterest, to love, to confusion and finally to the madness that leads to Carmen's demise at his hands. In his singing we can clearly hear the changes in Don José's self-confidence and independence as Carmen plays her games with him.
Antoinette Halloran, too, gives a superb performance as Micaëla, the devoted young woman who loves Don José, constantly and purely, and who his mother had hoped he would marry. She stands by him throughout, even when he discards her and pushes her away.
Simon Thorpe is just right for the role of Escamillo, a man proud, aloof and basking in his fame. Thorpe gives us all of that as he struts the stage, showing us that he believes that he is sure of his eventual success at taking Carmen from Don José.
There are a good many smaller roles and all are filled with fine performances. Deborah Caddy and Catriona Barr, as Carmen's gypsy friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, Adam Goodburn and Andrew Turner, as the smugglers, Remendado and Dancaïro, Pelham Andrews, as Zuniga and Byron Watson, as Moralès, Joanna McWaters as the tavern owner, Lillas Pastia, and Mark Oates, as the Guide, all add important and well portrayed characterisations to ensure that there are no weak links anywhere in this production.
This is also a huge production for the State Opera Chorus, including the delightfully enthusiastic Children's Chorus, and Chorus Master, Timothy Sexton, has ensured that their work as at the same high standard that we have always come to expect from them. Each chorus member, like the soloists, creates a character that they maintain, showing that they, too, can act, as well as sing and dance.
I would now, normally, be encouraging you to rush out for tickets but, of course, they are all sold. I will, instead, suggest that you do as others who have missed out on this production are doing, and get a season ticket now for all of the operas in the 2012 season, before they sell out as well. Take a look at the 2012 programme for information about all of the other related events, too, as there are some great things on offer.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.