Last night, Opera Australia had some mighty shoes to fill. Some 20 years ago today, I was introduced to Bizet’s Carmen sitting in an ancient arena in summertime Verona. It was the quintessential setting to experience the sultry, anarchic Carmen of this renowned opera. Opera Australia and director, Francesca Zambello, stay true to the temperament of this beautiful opera and some really outstanding performances abound.
To say that Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera inhabits the role of Carmen is untrue. She is unequivocally Carmen, and to forget that someone is playing a role is a testament to just how good the performer is. Sure, Fabiola Herrera has played Carmen many times over around the globe, but that can sometimes detract from a role – and you know it when you see a performer on auto-pilot. This is not the case here. Fabiola Herrera delivers a charismatic performance throughout this opera, and is vocally superb. Likewise, Canadian Tenor, David Pomeroy, gives a strong performance. Albeit his vocals, with its delicate, poignant quality, seems at odds with the stoic nature of Don José at times, but I loved his performance anyway.
Bizet’s score for Carmen boasts some of the most readily identifiable music, which even non-opera goers would know. Rich and intense, delicate and nimble, the score entwines around the characters and narrative of this opera like a lithe snake waiting to strike. When you hear it in its entirety, you understand exactly why it’s so popular. Brian Castles-Onion, as conductor, and Orchestra Victoria Brian Castles-Onion are the unseen magic behind this production.
The set and costume design for Opera Australia productions are always outstanding. And for Carmen, the kudos go to Tanya McCallin. McCallin expertly brings the gritty world of Carmen alive on stage conveying both a lively and barren vive, which in many ways echoes Carmen’s encounters with love.
If there’s only one criticism I have of Bizet’s operas, it is that, like The Pearl Fishers, it tends to plateau out sometimes when the score seems to be filling the space instead of moving the story on. At times like these I have a little brain fade, but there’s always plenty more to feel enthralled by.