Carmen by Georges Bizet with libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy is probably one of the best known modern operas in the world and a piece of work that has been staged so many times in so many variants that it needs no overall telling in this review.
Tonight’s Carmen is a “live streaming” event from the Taormina Opera Festival in Italy and coming direct from the open air Greek Theatre which provides a spectacular night-time setting for the performance.
Principal performers tonight are a truly international cast of world class singers. We have Russian “Mezzo Soprano” Elena Maximova as Carmen, Chilean “Spinto Tenor” Giancarlo Monsalve as Don Jose, American “Soprano” Joanna Parisi as Micaela and Georgian “Baritone” Michael Bachtadze as Escamillo.
Vocally and performance wise, everything is as you would expect from such a collection of talent and this is where live streaming works. It allows you to be part of a production that would never come to your theatre (particularly when using an amazing natural setting like this one), but it does have a few downsides, and that is that you obviously lose that “real” presence in front of you that only a truly live performance can give. There is a little indefinable magic that stars like this bring to a performance and that does not transfer to a screen. The other main downside of course is that you are viewing in 2D and not 3D, but it does still make you wish you were there in the actual Greek Theatre seats.
Set wise, the designers pretty much left the theatre and the scenic backdrop to do the work tonight as there were no stage sets apart from some moveable blocks. Amazingly though (and a tribute to the cast), this worked very well.
Carmen of course does have some of the most recognisable music in modern opera including the introductory music and of course “Habanera” and “The Toreador” song. Even, if like me, you are not a bull fighting supporter, you just can not ignore the power of the music of “The Toreador” even if the lyrics raise some issues with you. The “Cigarette Girls” song is another odd one for me as there is no allure of either cigarettes or their smoke to me.
This was a great performance that only modern technology made possible for us all to be part of tonight, but live streaming is a bit of a hybrid animal. It is by its nature cinematic and with a performance like Carmen reminds you just how close the line between Opera and classic Hollywood musical actually is. It is also though presented in a cinematic form that does not use a film approach to its production as the performers are all presenting their work to a live audience and using the performance skills required for that medium. It is a little bit like when early cinema used theatrical performers before film stars. The difference between the two always shows in the way close-ups are used as the performers are not playing to the cameras. The cameras used of course bring their own good and bad points. These are HD cameras that miss absolutely no detail and bring you in closer to the performance that any live seat in a theatre ever could. They are also of course absolutely unforgiving on the performers (particularly in close up). What they do also is at times show that a great stage performer is not always by virtue a great cinema screen performer. One big exception to that rule tonight though is Giancarlo Monsalve as Don Jose. This is one person that the camera absolutely loves. If ever there was an operatic male lead with the looks and screen presence to be a cinema star then this is the man.
Live streaming of events is a great way to see performances from all over the world and is rapidly becoming a huge economic plus point for many performance companies. It also allows us to see a performance at a fraction the cost of an “in front” of you one. It will never replace for me an actual performance, but it is a great addition to the options available.
If you want more information on Taormina Opera Festival go to
If you want to see Carmen live in front of you at The Festival Theatre then Scottish Opera are here in November with their production. Details are at http://www.edtheatres.com/socarmen
One other point for tonight’s show that can not go without mention are the wonderful staff of The Festival Theatre. This was a three hour long production tonight with three intervals and by the time you add in the one hour time difference between us and Italy, this was a long night for the staff, so thanks folks.
Review by Tom King