★★★★ Dark and dramatic
Festival Theatre: Tue 3 – Sat 14 Nov 2015
Review by Susan Lowes
It may be a slow starter, but there’s no shortage of drama at the Festival Theatre this fortnight with Scottish Opera’s production of Carmen.
Set in 19th Century Seville, Georges Bizet’s opera is one of the most popular in the world. This Scottish Opera production, first performed in 1999, is both absorbing and emotive. And yet, despite compelling performances, it’s difficult to relate or really empathise with the main characters.
Don Jose, played by Noah Stewart is a quiet, conscientious corporal in the army who very early on in the first act gets seduced and entrapped by the beguiling and mysterious gypsy, Carmen, played by Justina Gringyte. The rest is a tale of betrayal, jealousy and obsession which results in a number of ruined lives.
In this darkness, revival director Benjamin Davis delivers a production which has a lot to like. The set is dark and sultry, with soft and atmospheric lighting portraying the darkest corners of Seville where the gypsies smuggle their wares. But the use of space at the Festival Theatre still means it’s possible to display a wonderful grand sense of scale.
The wonderful street urchin children that taunt the soldiers in the first act and return to cheer on the Matadors in the third are an absolute delight. Animated and enthusiastic, they are a real focal point. The accompanying score too is well known and well loved – and David Parry’s Orchestra really shine through in this production.
Gringyte’s Carmen is somewhat overbearing in the opening act, as the flirtatious devil-woman flaunts through her many suitors and sets her sights on the only uninterested man. There’s no doubting her musical talent, but it’s hard to like the gypsy witch as she unashamedly casts her spell on Don Jose.
Similarly Stewart’s portrayal of Don Jose is technically very impressive, but he starts out a little insipid and while his downfall is very sad, it’s hard to empathise with a character who does very little to help himself.
Nadine Livingston plays the sweet peasant girl Michaela, who is fresh into town with a letter to her childhood sweatheart Don Jose from his mother, with an innocent charm, While her portrayal can be a little pious, her solo aria, Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante is exceptional – enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Roland Wood, enters the stage with the requisite wave of testosterone as the charismatic Escamillo, the successful matador who falls for Carmen.
There are no complaints either with the ensemble cast, they provide a nice accompaniment to the main cast. Yet, it feels as though there’s a slight misconnect somewhere. Without being able to relate to any of the characters, it’s hard to invest emotionally in their story. And the result is a production that’s easy to like, but harder to really love. A sentiment Carmen herself knows only too well.
Running time: 3 hours 10 minutes (including interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 3 to Saturday 14 November
Tue 3, Fri 6, Thurs 12, Sat 14: 7.15pm; Sun 8: 4pm
Tickets and details: http://www.edtheatres.com/socarmen
Scottish Opera website: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/