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Opera North - Carmen Review | The Lowry | Manchester

The cards are in your favour as Carmen waltzes into the Lowry theatre for Opera North’s new, sensual production. The French treasure, written by Georges Bizet in 1875 is infused with a Spanish flair and blends it extensive, lavish love story with a compelling score.


We follow gypsy girl Carmen (Chrystal E. Williams) who falls in love with runaway soldier Don José (Erin Caves). After escaping a small-town scuffle, José flees, leaving his mother and joining the army as an undistinguished officer hoping to escape his past.


Opera North’s production has updated portions of this piece, setting its cast in a captivating brothel dip dyed in red whilst rotating women on and off its stage. The cast is held hostage by its dizzying neon lighting prop in which director Edward Dick traps its lonely officers in a chilly climate of silhouetted figures, a disco ball and plumes of smoke. It’s unsurprising that Carmen’s introduction to the opera is a showstopping salute to her charismatic character and a warning signal to any man who falls in love with her. With the incredible classic, Love Is a Rebellious Bird (L'amour est un oiseau rebelle) Carmen wields a red rose to hurl at her next unsuspected lover.


Williams’s stand out performance captures the timeless temptress as a devious and overwhelming force who leaves José deliriously in love after their first encounter. After leaving a trail of suitors in her wake the hot-headed temptress pursues José due to his initial resistance to be with her. Rojas’s performance is passionate and offers a palpably pained charm. With acts that scope him as a desperate, weak-willed man, the story is driven by his believable desire and William’s lauded talents.


While the unapologetically empowered Carmen pushes José further into the deep end, the first two acts of this opera mix its bright and alluring aesthetics with light arias encompassing love and affection. Opera North’s renewed production portrays the shows 1845 themes surrounding an idealistic and independent woman as an inspiring and self-assured soul. José however cannot take ownership of his own actions and as the third and fourth acts develop, the rotating set piece turns to highlight a bleak peek behind the curtain of their tumultuous love affair. As the explosive story offers more anguished performances by its cast that highlight the consequences of demanding men who cannot deal with a free woman.


As the introduction of new suitors enters the mix Bizet’s powerful score lavishes rockstar matador, Escamillo with the familiar melody of the Toreadro aria for an irresistibly entertaining performance packed with pleasure. Rival Escamillo’s (Phillip Rhodes) live for the moment attitude aligns perfectly with Carmen’s, presenting an absorbing routine of seduction with a presentation that is as smooth as butter. On the other hand, José’s other love interest Micaëla (Camila Titinger) plays out a soulful aria brimming with grit and heartache as the losing proposition of love is extended out to all parties.


The classic Carmen continues to unravel its daisy chain narrative of she loves me nots to its phenomenal conclusion. As the compelling tug of war between fate vs. free will plays out Opera North ensure that this beautiful epic remains an attractive and intense production. With subtly direction and irresistible costumes and sets, almost three-hour opera builds tremendous tension through its remarkable cast, who ensure that this timeless tale continues to be superbly represented for new audiences and those acquainted with the classic.


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