The interval smoked salmon might well be choked on at this Royal Opera House production of Carmen — but would the titular seductress from Seville have cared? Doubtful. Director Barrie Kosky has created something crazed and a little dangerous here.
Big, bold, and busy — the production has imbibed heavily from the Strictly Come Dancing glitter box. There are jazz hands, the 2018 ‘flossing’ dance move — and we even saw one of the chorus dabbing at one point. The dancing is mesmeric if you’re craving a spectacle; but it does also threaten to distract from the vocal performances. (Our visit saw Aigul Akhmetshina step in to sing the title role — and nail it, adding a coquettish curtsey at the end.)
What’s also inherently rebellious about this version is the scrapping of dialogue in favour of a narration (in French; subtitled). At times, this all-knowing voiceover is a nifty device for exposing the duplicity in the central characters: Carmen, Jose, Escamillo. Elsewhere, it can render each performer a bit of a human jukebox, singing lines on demand.
The costumes are almost entirely monochrome, save the colour of a matador’s socks here and a blood-red flower petal there. The rampant greyscale, we suspect, is more than just a throwback to old-time showbiz glamour. Its many shades reveal that nothing is ever quite black-and-white in this murky tale of fatal attraction. Many weren’t sure of this Carmen when it was staged in February 2018, but we found things to admire in its risk-taking spirit.
Carmen, Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD. Tickets from £9, until 22 December 2018 then back from June 2019.
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