A major new production of Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1943 musical adaptation of Bizet’s classic 1875 opera, will be staged for six weeks only this summer as part of the reopening season at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall (RFH), which has been closed for the past two years while undergoing a £75 million refurbishment.

Running from 31 July to 2 September 2007 (previews from 25 July), the fully stage production of Carmen Jones will be directed by Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly (whose English National Opera staging of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town returns to the London Coliseum next month) and produced by Raymond Gubbay. The production continues Gubbay’s tradition of summer musicals at the RFH which, prior to Hall’s closure, included revivals of Follies and On Your Toes.

Transplanting the story from a gypsy to an African-American setting, Carmen Jones follows a parachute maker who pursues first a soldier and then a boxer with a violent temper. When she rejects the latter, he turns murderous.

Hammerstein wrote the book and dialogue for Carmen Jones, while the music, essentially Bizet’s original score, was re-orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. The musical ran for more than 500 performances in New York, where it premiered in 1943, and was made into a 1954 film starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge (who became the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar thanks to her title performance).

No casting has yet been announced for the RFH production, which will be designed by Michael Vale, with choreography by Rafael Bonachela and musical direction by Simon Lee. The cast will be backed by a full 60-strong symphony orchestra, with performances shared equally between the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia.


The Royal Festival Hall officially reopens on 11 June 2007 when the four resident orchestras – the London Sinfonietta and Age of Enlightenment in addition to the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia – will come together for a gala performance.

Later that month, from 16 to 24 June 2007, the annual Meltdown Festival – a mix of rock, classical and contemporary music, film, dance and performance - will return to the RFH. Pop star Jarvis Cocker, formerly the lead singer of Nineties band Pulp and now a solo artist, is the guest director of this year’s Meltdown. The festival, launched in 1993, has previously been curated by guest directors including Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Patti Smith and the late DJ, John Peel.

Commenting on Cocker’s appointment, the Southbank’s producer of Contemporary Culture Glen Max said: “Those who appreciate the history of this festival will be delighted by the ideas, humour and sense of mischief that will be oozing from this Meltdown.” Cocker added: “Your cultural life is in my hands. I can’t wait.”

In addition to the full concert programme, the mainstay of the RFH, highlights of the reopening season will include Welsh star Bryn Terfel taking the title role as the demon barber of Fleet Street in a new operatic staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in July.

- by Terri Paddock