The audience for Impact Opera's production of Carmen appears to be a somewhat middle aged crowd who, no doubt, are familiar with opera, and many seem surprised as we enter to see a very bare stage. Indeed some of the set was rather rickety and we worry for the poor cast members who had to climb onto it at various stages. If you work for the Health and Safety executive, don’t go to see this show.
The production uses textiles in various warm hues to conjure up the heat and dust of hot, sunny Seville. All expense is spared, however the minimalist / shoestring staging comes alive as the cast enter. They are a spirited group who take to their work with relish. They swarm on, laughing dancing, fighting … celebrating life! The girls are all wearing very tight corsets to emphasise their charms, which cannot facilitate singing and they storm their way through some excellent choreography by the young Seville-based dancer Noemi Luz.
Daniel Hoadley, as Don Jose, is believable as the good man torn between two worlds, and unreserved praise goes to Amie Clapson for a superb performance as Carmen. This opera stands or falls on the casting of the lead and she runs the gamut of emotions and scores a resounding hit. She fully embodies the gypsy woman for whom imprisonment or marriage equal death. Freedom is all to her and she will not settle for less. From the moment she enters centre stage and thrills us with her beautiful voice singing her theme tune, Love is a rebellious bird, she perfectly embodies Carmen with flashing eyes, pouting lips and swinging hips.
At the beginning, the conductor explains to us that this is an attempt of make classic opera more accessible and what we have is really more of a musical than an opera. Words are spoken and songs are sung in English although, ironically, an operatic aria is no more intelligible in English than another language if the cast does not enunciate clearly!
The relative youth of the 14-piece orchestra is no reflection on their ability; they know their stuff and they deserve a fair chunk of the credit for the success of this production. They more than do justice to Georges Bizet’s sublime music, which includes many tunes that even novices will recognise. Overall, a hugely enjoyable evening is on offer although the second half does rather fly by, as they hurry towards the climax, which means we don’t get the full emotional impact. If you are used to your operatic divas taking an hour to die of tuberculosis whilst belting out arias, you may be a little disappointed.