Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Carmen , Coliseum, Aberdare , October 3, 2014
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- Carmen Mid Wales Opera may be the poor brother of funding but there is nothing lacking in ambition in the companyís 25th anniversary production.

The show rises above having a tiny orchestra and cast of just 14 which includes doubling up for chorus and set shifters! MWOís musical director Nicholas Cleobury conducts an inspired reduction of Bizetís score by Stephen McNeff that included guitar that added Andalusian colour.

Director Jonathan Miller places the action in the fascist era and there is no problem with pistols largely replacing daggers but it does spoil the ending when Carmen is simply shot off stage. It does make the ending, when Don Josť is led off stage, a bit of a damp squib and discards the Carmen-lover and toreador-bull underlying sexual attraction theme of the work.

Nicky Shawís design is limited to moveable panels and boxes, all atmospherically lit by Declan Randall. The bloc-style designs evoke the scuola metafisica art movement pioneered by Giorgio de Chirico who influenced surrealist painters such as Spainís Dali, which would all make perfect sense. The look is a dusty, drab Seville as is the fashion nowadays. We donít have glamorous costumes, apart for the Toreador, and the girls do tease the men with some sultry dance rather than touristy flamenco.

The cast were clear and sharp with Rory Bremnerí translation although the varying accents from Australian to chatty Welsh jarred a little. Miller has not felt the need to plonk a black wig on Helen Sherman, his blond Carmen. It was an odd reversal for the gypsy girlís Navarrian Don Josť being bearded Portuguese Leonel Pinheiro. Sherman sings and moves a beautifully mellow Carmen in this detailed reading of the role. Pinheiro seemed not to be a natural actor and rather full throttle for reasonably small venues but his acting in the final scene was surprisingly very strong.

Daisy Brown and Marta Fontanals-Simmons presented the roles of Frasquita and Mercedes in this interpretation perfectly while Nicholas Lester sounded and looked a fine Escamillo. Elin Pritchardís frock and socks outfit to make MicaŽla look 17 didnít work but her voice thrilled.

Jan Capinski immediately got our attention bringing rare focus to the role of Morales along with the ballsy Zuniga from Simon Wilding. I was less taken with the direction given to Adam Gilbert and Oliver Brignall as Dancaire and Remendado and there was strong support dramatic and vocal from chorus members Angharad Watkeys, Dawn Burns, Tristan Stocks and Andrew Mahon.

When the shrinking funding cake gets sliced even thinner next time round organisations like MWO, who actually tour all over Wales with accessible yet adventurous opera productions, must be favoured for the cultural health of Wales.

Further performances touring including Aberystwyth Arts Centre, October 8; Riverfront, Newport October 30; Borough Theatre, Abergavenny, November 4 and Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, November 13.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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