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<<  -- 3 --  Roderic Dunnett    A SUREFIRE HIT


The mere fact that this Carmen presented so many paradoxes, and invites so many conflicting responses, is a measure of how far Fontane has managed to penetrate plot and personality, and get others to do so around her. The impressively solid set helped played its part (shades of Russell Flint, though one wasn't too aware of them; instead, McKillop achieved something in the sets that seemed altogether more apt and relevant) -- flawed only by one pinpoint gap between flats, just enough to flag unintentionally, and hence diminish the surprise of, one of Carmen's own ex-factory entries.

McKillop's lighting (he was assisted by Jeremy Walker), capable and forceful as ever, helped a great deal: an interesting range of shades -- although Stowe still tends slightly to overdo the slightly old-fashioned, in-yer-face, 'single colour' cyclorama effect (the sort of thing your find in the opera house at Prague). Far preferable was the folding in of shades and half-colours, and some rather subtle mottled sky effects later on; at the same time, pinks and reds behind the fountain for Carmen's Habanera, an accurate, to-the-second, spot-on lights shift to yellow as she subsequently exits, the striking impact of an orange background as she ominously sends up Zuniga, and twilight to dawn mauves for the Robbers' bleak hideout all added much to the production's sinister and nervy, edge-of-the-seat feel.

Don José in happier times with Micaëla (Catherine Mikic). Photo © 2004 John Credland
Don José in happier times with Micaëla (Catherine Mikic). Photo © 2004 John Credland

Overall this was an evening of strong solo performances. No gentle lyric soprano from this Micaëla : Catherine Mikic, another RNCM product, was British Youth Opera's Lady Billows not long ago, and she brought some of that punch to both Micaëla's set pieces. No shy little girlie -- you'd have thought she was his mother had come to fetch him. Mikic makes a big noise: Donna Anna -- no meekling role, that -- in Mid Wales Opera's Don Giovanni last season, Mikic has already outsung the resident peacocks as Manon Lescaut for Opera Holland Park and got caught in the Carmen-like crossfire of Puccini's Il Tabarro, singing Georgetta for WNO; she also sang Nedda (Canio's wife in Pagliacci during Opera North's recent run of one-acter operas. A beefy sound; but a name to watch -- and listen -- out for.

Frasquita (Simone Sauphanor, centre) with Carmen and Mercedes. Photo © 2004 John Credland
Frasquita (Simone Sauphanor, centre) with Carmen and Mercedes. Photo © 2004 John Credland

It's to Robert Secret's credit that he draws singers of calibre to Stowe (Fiona Kimm, Robert Poulton in Trovatore and Lucia and Charles Johnston's Posa in Don Carlo were particularly outstanding). I liked the warm tones of the Guildhall-trained French-Trinidadian soprano Simone Sauphanor as Frasquita (she's already done a Countess in Figaro for Opera North); Australian-born baritone Robert Williams, a regular with Opera Queensland in Brisbane, brought an urbane presence to Dancairo, presiding over his smuggling business -- paradoxically -- a bit like a head of police. It would seem Williams can do comedy too: Don Pasquale, Falstaff and even the awful Miles Gloriosus (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) all feature on his distinctly lively CV.

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Copyright © 3 October 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Mirfield, Yorkshire, UK


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