2019 - Carmen


Georges Bizet

Thank you to all who made Carmen a great success and thank you to Gail Foster for her lovely review please see below

Well known songs and even a racy plotline

By Gail Foster

On a cold night I went to Lavington School to have my cockles warmed by the heady fires of White Horse Opera’s Bizet’s Carmen, produced by Graham Billing with musical direction by Roland Melia.

Set in and around a Seville peopled with gypsies and soldiers and smugglers and cigarette girls, Carmen is a dramatic tale of love and death based on a novella by a French dramatist. It was first performed in 1875 to audiences both fascinated and shocked by its depiction of the dark underside of life by choruses unused to moving around the stage. As recently as 2014 an Australian opera company declined to put it on it due to the smoking scenes but despite the controversy it has courted in its various versions over the years it is still one of our best known and loved operas and contains songs which even people who consider themselves to be opera virgins can whistle.

The set consisted of slides projected on to the backdrop to indicate the four locations in which the action occurred and the costumes varied in complexity and were not specific to any era. There were a couple of moments where the wonderful music from the seven piece orchestra tucked away in the corner slightly overwhelmed the vocals and I wasn’t keen on the doll dance but those are minor criticisms of the first night of a show that was both technically excellent and visually delightful.

Carmen the wild and sensuous gypsy girl is a big ask of a part and Paula Boyagis gave a spirited performance, hitting the spot in songs such as Habanera with some thrilling vocals and creating a credible and dangerous chemistry with soldier Don José (Phillip Borge). Also of remark to me were the harmonies and sweetness of tone in Micaela (Barbara Gompels) and Don José’s first duet, and the quality of their voices in subsequent songs.

Jon Paget was suitably dashing as Escamillo (Toreador being one of the most rousing and memorable tunes in the show); Lisa House, Bryony Cox, and Jessica Phillips as Frasquita, Mercedes, and Remendado, bought freshness and energy to the centre of the stage; Stephen Grimshaw and Graham Billing brought years of experience to their roles as Dancairo and Morales; Brian Brooks as Zuniga did himself credit in his first opera out of an orchestra pit; Robin Lane played his part with relish; and the whole chorus and cast sang and mostly moved with precision and enthusiasm throughout the show.

Afterwards I asked a friend what she thought of it and she said that it was a bit racy, which I suspect is a result. I found the ending abrupt, but that’s down to Bizet.

Carmen was fun and engaging to watch and I was at times utterly transported by the music.

What more could you want from an opera?

Gail Foster