Carmen at the Grange Opera

Plus ça change …? The Grange Park Opera Festival has moved premises. At The Grange, near Alresford in Hampshire, a new entity has arrived, called confusingly the Grange Opera Festival. Some alterations to the auditorium and its surrounds have taken place, but the formally dressed customers arriving with their picnic baskets are still the same, as is their enthusiasm for the performance. Was the very positive reception for Carmen justified and what did the performance augur for the future of the new regime?

It is good to report that, as regards Annabel Arden’s production and the designs by her collaborator Joanna Parker, there was an attempt to do something new. It is by no means unusual to drop the recitative introduced into the score after the composer’s death and to revert to the spoken libretto, but the novelty here was to replace some of the long-winded dialogue with a narration and commentary given (in English) by two extras on the stage. I was gradually converted to this as the evening progressed, not the least because it enabled the drama to develop at a greater pace than is normal.

Nor was the staging traditional. Performed on a bare arena with projections on a textured backdrop offering a hint of the themes of the piece (a bird for Carmen’s freedom; a withered flower for Don José’s token of love), the drama came across with clarity and powerful emotion. Some stylised movement added to the intensity of the interaction between the protagonists.

Musically the performance was, sadly, not at the same level of achievement. Under the baton of Jean-Luc Tingaud, the orchestral contribution needed more excitement and bite. Na’ama Goldman in the title role has an attractive mezzo but her interpretation was under-characterised. It had insufficient allure and greater variation and colouring could have been brought to the phrasing in the vocal line and the articulation of the text. In contrast, Leonardo Capalbo was totally convincing, dramatically and musically, in his portrayal of Don José, even though his tenor lacked brilliance. Like most Escamillos, Phillip Rhodes had difficulty with the tessitura of the role, but there were worthy supporting performances from the Frasquita (Marianne Croux), the Mercédès (Filipa van Eck) and the smugglers.

So, a mixed impression of what the new regime at the Grange can offer.