Date 19th November 2015
Society Winchester Musicals & Opera Society
Venue Theatre Royal, Winchester
Type of Production Opera
Director Sam Quested
Musical Director Teddy Clements


Author: Stuart Ardern

This was a dark production - and why not?  It’s a dark story.  Carmen tells us she’s fickle and dangerous in her first appearance, and she proves it throughout the story.  Don Jose is enchanted, sacrifices his career, and then cannot cope with the subsequent rejection.  The gloomy lighting allowed for some fabulous contrasts - the tableau around the body of Zuniga at the end of Act 2 was like a Renaissance painting.  In keeping with the mood, the production did away with the children’s parade at the start of Act 4: it is not a children’s story.  (I have not checked the history, but I suspect that Bizet wrote it that way to sell more family tickets!)  We got a sense of the tone right from the beginning; in Michaela’s interaction with the guards she was not just being teased, she was really being threatened.  Whilst Carmen’s knife fight in the cigarette factory takes place offstage, her victim (it was Lucy Whiteman) was helped onto the stage with a gashed cheek dripping with blood.

It was essentially a single set - staircases upstage at either side, leading to a gallery level (with its own side exit).  Upstage centre there was an annular revolve.  This was graced by a statue for the opening scene, making it look like the rim of a fountain in a town square, then in Act 3, it was used as a sort of treadmill, to illustrate the smugglers trudging into the mountains.  The staircases might have looked out of place in that scene, but they were used to brilliant effect as anchors for cloths, strung across the set to create the appearance of makeshift tents.

The singing was fabulous - likewise the characterisation that went with it.  Alison Carter made Carmen what she is supposed to be: wayward, sexy and dangerous.  Helen Clutterbuck provided the  contrasting purity and innocence as Micaela with Dan Hickson caught between them as Don Jose, and choosing the dark side.  Once again, I was totally captivated by the quintet in Act 2 - Carmen joined by her two Gypsy friends (Daniella Gambier and Kathleen Brenner) and the smugglers’ leaders (Adrian Hickford and Simon Meanwell-Ralph) - the music is very complex, but it was sung with great clarity.  Peter Barber will probably admit that he is older than the typical toreador, but it didn’t matter; the prancing arrogance of Escamillo was all there, and the knife-fight with Don Jose was played with real menace.  Sterling work too from the chorus, not just in the singing, but in creating character and movement in every scene.

This production was well-designed, played and performed.  A glorious theatrical experience.