Carmen (Assembly Roxy, 23-27 Feb. ’16)

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

“For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality… sometimes you just have to be in awe.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly an opera buff and I wasn’t particularly familiar with Carmen before entering the theatre last night, so despite the accessibility of the English libretto in this production, there were times during Act 1 when even I wished Bizet et al had been a little less self-indulgent with their lyricism and more efficient with the quill. In saying that, the magnitude of this production never appeared to be too daunting or a stretch too far for the company, who did their level-best to keep the performance alive and engaging throughout. And for me, it is the stars of the show who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that.

Anna Keenan is an absolute delight as Carmen, oozing sexiness and style, with a voice full of richness, warmth and subtlety to portray important changes in tone during the performance. Her stage presence and demeanour command attention and it is difficult not to be drawn to her throughout. Robert Forrest as Don Jose is similarly impressive, demonstrating fantastic strength and vocal and emotional range in a role that is very demanding. And considering both leads are still students, one wonders just what heights they may achieve in the future given the talent both displayed in this performance – remember those names. Monica Toll also dazzled as Micaela with gorgeous tones and depth to her voice, particularly in Micaelea’s Aria which was very moving.

Early on I was worried that this production lacked the fierceness and melodrama required to really sell an opera, as the opening couple of chorus numbers were a little flat and pedestrian. At times the stage seemed very full, with chorus members appearing a little lost when not singing. Yet, with each act the energy seemed to be turned up a notch, so by the rousing What A Bargain! in the final act, my earlier thoughts were dispelled as the pomp and gusto had lifted to breath-taking levels with great characterisation, action and a spine tingling sound.

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was how creatively the space was used. Often the performers would enter or exit through the audience, engaging us in the action, while the orchestra (who were magnificent throughout) were placed within the first few rows, which added to that sense of involvement, rather than traditional separation. And as this production is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, I feel these touches really helped achieve a sense of comradeship with the chorus in their plight, so the whole show became more of an experience than a spectacle – certainly a commendable feat.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this production before seeing it, but I am certainly more than pleasantly surprised by the experience. For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality, with just as much energy and vocal strength at the end of the show as the beginning, sometimes you just have to be in awe. Bravo.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 February)

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