The theoretically laudable habit of involving local arts groups in an Ellen Kent production can throw up some oddities, such as the initial march-up presence of a brass band (more Viva Espana than Viva Toreador) and the unaccompanied traditional lament which brings down the final curtain. In between we see a lively production with the sung Guirand recitatives. Eugen Ponomariov's surtitles are needed; the cast struggles to enunciate French.
Nicolae Dohotaru conducts the orchestra and chorus of the Chisinau National Opera with considerable sympathy for the score – but, if you're at a performance in a venue which doesn't have the traditional sunken orchestra pit, don't sit only a few rows back on the right-hand side of the auditorium. The brass and timpani can overlay the stage sound.
Of the soloists, Irina Vinogradova is a sympathetic Micaela with a sweet voice for her Act One duet with José and Act Three solo and a personality somewhat removed from the insipid "good girl" which is how the part has been played. Also notable in smaller roles are Elena Dee as Frasquita, Anatol Arcea as Dancairo, Vasile Micusa as Remendado and Valeriu Cojocaru as a somewhat comical Zuniga. The "death" theme of Carmen's destiny is embodied by dancer Samantha Quy.
Any production of Carmen requires performers who can act as well as sing in the two main roles. Zarui Vardanean in the title role looks the wayward gypsy and moves very well, but she lacks a certain magic necessary if the sway this femme fatale exercises over all the men she encounters is to affect the audience as well as the characters on stage. "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" and "Près des remparts de Seville" are effective but not completely beguiling; "je vais danser" and the culmination of the card trio "En vain pour éviter" work much better.
Don José in Irakli Grigali's performance suggests the loner who is going to be a misfit in whichever societal group he joins. This is a brooder, not a doer, so the sudden outbursts of violence make their proper effect. Grigali seems more comfortable in ensemble than in aria; "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" is accurately but not emotionally sung. Igor Sviridov looks right as Escamillo and makes his entrance aria the show-stopper Bizet intended.
The crowd scenes are lively with a bustling cat-fight in the first act and lively goings-on in the second. Will Bowen's permanent colonnaded set provides the right sun-drenched atmosphere for all but the third act, though the costumes don't really suggest 1820s Spain and its political as well as social turmoil.
An Ellen Kent Amphitheatre production reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
- Anne Morley-Priestman