Barrie Kosky’s take on Bizet’s much-loved Opera, Carmen, is a confused mash-up of grand opera and spirited West End musical. The director, known for his wacky, quirky productions, in his pursuit of a break from convention – and in a bid to adopt a radically postmodern take on the traditionally heady romance – discards the Spanish exoticism that forms an integral part of Carmen. What remains are brief glimpses of Seville – made apparent only by Matador uniforms and Latin frocks in otherwise trite scenes. Even then, the over-confident, cabaret-style exhibition feels brash and tawdry. The stage, consumed by a wide staircase, with stunning lighting, appears grand and alive. However, once the initial glamour fades, the unchanging concrete staging becomes heartless, dreary, and lacklustre. The audience is asked to imagine the fountain in the foreground and the bridge above the stairs, with no props on stage.

Czech conductor, Jakub Hrusa, well known for the highly acclaimed adaptation of Carmen at Glyndebourne in 2015, makes his Royal Opera debut. His orchestra brings life and vigour to the edited score of Carmen. Nevertheless, his brilliance can only carry the production so far. Towards the end of the second act, there is less new music to keep the audience engaged, and our attention regretfully returns to the stage.

Anna Goryachova’s full-bodied mezzo soprano adds edge and a sense of danger to her sultry Carmen. First appearing in a pink toreador outfit, she captures her audience instantly. She exudes sensuality and passion, adding much needed strokes of colour to the otherwise soulless stage. Despite this, Goryachova and her co-star Franceso Meli, playing Don José, present an unconvincing relationship sorely lacking in lust and sexual chemistry. Kristina Mkhitaryan dazzles as Micaëla, Don José’s other love interest, with her flawless voice, although is occasionally an awkward presence on stage.

The last scene however, is refreshingly dramatic. Carmen’s sumptuous gown, designed by Katrin Lea Tag, juxtaposed with the barren stage, is almost iconic. Carmen and Don José finally capture the passion missing earlier and although slightly prolonged, the finale offers a taste of what could have been a remarkable performance.

As a whole, the production is very stilted, with an obvious lack of coherency. A string of awkwardly transitioning scenes is brought together by on off-stage voice that narrates large chunks of the narrative, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. Kosky’s Carmen falls short in almost all respects, but those willing to sit through the dross are rewarded with some moments of striking directorial and musical talent.


3 Stars

Where? Royal Opera House When? 6th Feb - 16th March How Much? £18 - £182