Carmen

By Jarred Tito

Date / Venue: Thursday June 22nd, 2017 - ASB Theatre, Auckland

A playful tragedy is how I might describe The New Zealand Opera’s rendition of the famous Opera Carmen. With similar tensions and passions that you may experience in musicals such as Le Misérables or Blood Brothers, this year’s performance of Carmen takes you to the deep and meaningful heights of impassioned love as well as unscrupulous depths of jealousy and envy.

I was delighted to be included in Auckland’s first performance of the show and relished the opportunity to experience all of the classic songs of what is known as the world’s most popular opera of all time. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, led by Francesco Pasqualetti, took his place in the pit, awakening the Aotea Theatre with a very convincing and strong performance.

I am not sure what the first performance of Carmen was like back in Paris in 1875 but I’m quite sure that Georges Bizet would have been quite proud and possibly deeply moved by the performance we experienced at the Aotea Centre tonight. The performances of both the principal leads as well as the chorus were quite simply outstanding and at times breath-taking.

Each scene possessed its own ingredients of both talent and magic. The audience was spellbound on more than one occasion. The set design was fantastic, the lighting was phenomenal and above all performances of the singers was second to none. I take my hat off to the skills of the choirmaster, John Rosser, as well as the musical conductors and also to Stuart Maunder, the general director for the operatic Society, who together with his team of visionary people have put together a sensational opera that was both enjoyable and spectacular from the very first curtain opening to the final curtain call.

We are so lucky to have been able to enjoy some of the international performers that graced our stage such as Nino Surguladze and Tom Randall. Nino played Carmen and she was everything that you would expect the character of Carmen to be. She was playful, she was strong she was of course very sensual. I think for a opera like Carmen is completely necessary which made for good entertainment from not just the other performers, but the audience as well. Tom Randall who originally started out as a conductor played her love interest, Don José. He also brought a nice tension to the story which was a strong contrast to Carmen’s character.

The two worked well together. Among the other names of performers that took to the stage James Benjamin Rodgers and Amelia Berry, a couple of Kiwi performers of whom I had the privilege of meeting earlier, also delivered stunning performances in their own right and without any exaggeration lifted the opera to the next level when they featured in the second act.

Other names that you might recognise from the Opera world, included James Clayton who played  Camillo and Emma Pearson and so the list goes on. I should also mention another feature, which you won’t often see in an opera such as Carmen, and that is the chorus also featuring young child singers. The singing was quite angelic and quite rare, in my experience of operas. I guess that was one of the reasons why I couldn’t help but compare Carmen to the musical Les Misérables.

Because the Opera is sung in French and the feel of the piece is set around those times, of course it is based in Spain and ends in Seville there are some similarities. I should also like to mention the quality of drama that I think is largely due to the fact that Lindy Hume, the director brought. I’m not going to say that men don’t share the same insights as women when it comes to romances or love affairs but there is certainly a touch to the characters of both Carmen and Don José which certainly suggests that Hume knows a thing or two about the subject.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and now I find myself eagerly awaiting the next instalment. I must say New Zealand Opera has had a fantastic run over the past few years with the Magic Flute then Sweeney Todd and now the consummate opera Carmen. Many thanks to the New Zealand Opera, may the good run continue.