Scottish Opera do a wide variety of works and performances and although always great to watch, do at times take some commercial and critical risks with some of the lesser known material that they work with. Tonight, however, with Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” being the first of their impressive looking 2015/2016 schedule, they are on very firm ground performing one of the best loved of all modern operas. There is of course a risk with performing such a well known piece of work too as audiences know it so well and have often a very fixed idea of what they want to see and hear.
Right upfront, early in this review I can honestly say that this production of Carmen has to be a huge success on every level for Scottish Opera (and co-producers Welsh National Opera) as it is an outstanding piece of performance work.
Part of the strength of Carmen always is that it is just written so naturally. There is nothing stilted about the dialogue and the characters are given real depths of emotion to them. On stage, Carmen just flows in almost cinematographic fashion.
A big part of the credit for this has to go to Justina Gringyte as Carmen and Noah Stewart as Don Jose.
Carmen is a wonderful principal role for any singer as she is one of the few truly strong and independent characters in Opera (some may disagree with that statement I know). Carmen is her own woman, she goes with whom it pleases her and knows exactly how to use her beauty and femininity to get what she want out of any man. She is also strong willed and fearless. Justina Gringyte brings all of those qualities in Carmen to life wonderfully on stage as well of course as that wonderful mezzo soprano voice.
Carmen of course has some of the greatest songs in modern opera to sing here including the wonderful “La Habanera” with to me some of the greatest lyrics ever put to music such as “Love is a gypsy's child, it has never, ever, known a law”…how I wish I could write something like that.
Justina does not just sing “Carmen, she brings her to life with real emotions.
Noah Stewart as Don Jose is outstanding in his performance all through the show. A wonderful tenor voice certainly, but that is only part of what made this such a great performance. Noah Stewart is also a very good performance actor and there is genuine emotion here on stage as he slowly loses his mind over Carmen and her rejection of him. Again a role not only sung, but given life on stage.
Justina and Noah on stage are a wonderful combination. Sometimes Opera can be a little bit guilty of concentrating on the vocal performances while leaving the emotional performances a bit cold. Not so with these two, there is real emotional chemistry between them when they perform. You can believe in Carmen’s affection for Don Jose and you can almost feel his obsession with her.
Both Justina and Noah are, I read in theprogramme, making their Scottish Opera debut in Carmen. I hope that Scottish Opera can persuade them to return to their ranks many times in the future (hopefully together on stage).
Roland Wood as Escamillo also gives a great performance here. This is a big role that needs someone with a strong voice and stage presence to pull it off convincingly and Roland certainly does that. The wonderful natural dialogue of Carmen also allows him to give his character real life emotions too. With “The Toreador Song”, Roland also of course gets one of the best known songs in Opera to work with and gives a wonderful performance of it. It is a tribute to Bizet’s music that I like this piece as, although its subject matter of bull-fighting is something I have very strong views on, the power of the music overpowers any personal opinions I have on the subject matter.
Of course there are other fine performances here from others too including Nadine Livingston as Micaela, Ellie Laugharne as Frasquita and Maria Claire Breen as Mercedes (to name a few).
This is a very big production for Scottish Opera with a large chorus and The Orchestra of Scottish Opera. The orchestra required so much space here that the front rows of the stalls were removed to make space for an enlarged orchestra pit. Wonderful music from the orchestra all performance too.
The set itself was at times Spartan, but very effective as the costumes had been done so well that elaborate sets simply were not needed. The full colour of the costumes of the principal cast and chorus really came to life at the start of Act Four as the people line the streets for the arrival of the bull fighters. A huge splash of vivid colour that made a sharp contrast to the previous dark night scenes.
Simply a great performance from everyone on stage and involved with the production and a great opening to Scottish Opera’s new season.
One of the great tests I think of any performance of anything on stage is “would you go and see it again?” and I would happily have just gone right back and watched Carmen after this performance.
Review by Tom King