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Fever, meltdown and breakdown seems to sum up the fiery tale of Carmen rather wonderfully at Longborough Festival Opera



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PERHAPS this production of Bizet’s opera about the tragic femme-fatale gypsy girl Carmen came with a curse.

Six key cast members were hit by Covid during its opening performances. Then, by the time Herald arts saw it on Sunday (17th July), the sweltering heat had struck – with no air-con in the theatre all the audience were given fans (the old-fashioned kind). The fanning audience conjured visions of a bygone era. A power-outage during the third act, halting proceedings for a good ten minutes, also seemed hex-like.

Fever, meltdown and breakdown seems to sum up the fiery tale of Carmen rather wonderfully, so maybe the mishaps were an ironic sort of blessing.

Margaret Plummer as Carmen and Peter Gijsbertsen as Jose. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis (58121128)
Margaret Plummer as Carmen and Peter Gijsbertsen as Jose. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis (58121128)

Despite the adversities the production certainly won over this reviewer. Directed with boldness, colour and pizzazz by Mathilde López, it had a modern day setting, with an adaptation in English. It was easily understood and clear as a bell.

As the factory girls leave the meat factory where they work, a group of soldiers leer after them – top sexiest girl is Carmen, a heartbreaker and serial romancer who would do well on current cult reality programme Love Island. She is played with convincing allure and bad girl attitude by Australian mezzo-soprano Margaret Plummer making her Longborough debut. Her Habanera filled the ears like a magical seductive spell, trilling and thrilling.

Carmen catches the eye of the corporal José, played by Peter Gijsbertsen. He evolves the character rather wonderfully, going from (seeming) reserved mother’s boy to unhinged stalker who eventually commits the ultimate crime passionnel, killing his love when she rejects him.

All the cast sang amazingly well. The chorus were dressed up as a scally bunch – casual sportswear with a mix of rave gear giving added warmth and humour to their escapades.

Carmen. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis (58121130)
Carmen. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis (58121130)

Particularly impressive were the final crowd scenes in Seville, where the choreography and choral work was sublime, with March of the Toreadors a smile-inducing toe-tapping showstopper.

One of the finest voices belonged to Jennifer Witton as Micaëla, played as a dumpy pig-tailed nerd. When she sings a truly wondrous sound emerges; the exquisite pitch seems to go right through your soul, her ‘nothing frightens me’ aria was divinity itself.

There was lots to savour through the whole production: flamboyant changes of costumes, imaginative staging, gloriously tight orchestra, amazing spine-chilling voices, and the clever presence of José’s mother spirit-like throughout. A big salute goes to the cast and company pulling together through adversity... an indefatigable spirit that mirrored that of Carmen herself. Bravo.



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