10th - 14th June 2003
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Sally Langford's 50th
anniversary production for Kentish Opera certainly captures all
the sultry external aspects of the oppressive heat of the environment,
which leads Carmen through her tempestuous affairs and final
The timbers providing
the excellent framework set seem almost to glow with the heat,
thanks to Enid Strutt's design and some bold painting. Carol
Stevenson's costumes are also excellent, from the colourful but
well worn village outfits to a mixed bag of dragoons,
thankfully not all looking like chocolate box solders.
The cigarette girls
too look what they are - impoverished women trying to scrape
a living in the local factory. The march of the assorted bullfighters
is a glittering fashion parade, rightly providing the only hint
of razzle dazzle.
Everything about the design,
costume and lighting of the show suggests spaghetti western rather
than the shallow, primary colourlul just-made peasant look one
often finds in inferior productions. The characterisations, acting
and purpose of individuals within the chorus also add to the
My quibble is that I
didn't find this coarse, realistic approach reflected in some
of the acting or performance style of the scenes. Accessibly,
the opera is sung in English, but those rounded Anglo-Saxon vowels
somehow seem incongruous in the setting.
occasional fierce kiss hints at passion, but it isn't really
followed through. Carmen's death scene is the best example, in
which Don Jose shimmies adroitly around some furniture in pursuit
of the·lady, and despatches her with a quick tug of a
rope, when the music provides scope for a much more chilling
Musically, the production is
superb. The professional principals alternate, but on the first
night Gaynor Keeble sang Carmen with ruby rich sultry tone, and
Dewi Wyn brought a crystal tenor to bear on Don Jose.
I especially enjoyed
his duet on Memories of Happy Days with Paula O'Sullivan's sad
Micaela; this was one piece unaffected by the lack of raw passion
between other characters. One soprano to watch out for is Justine
Davies (Frasquita) who has one of voices that makes the hairs
on the back of your neck tingle - wonderful.
The Kentish Opera marked its
Golden Jubilee year with a production of the popular opera Carmen
The production at the
Churchill Theatre, Bromley was the fifth time the group has performed
Bizet's much-loved tale about the feisty and passionate Carmen
and it was easy to see why it was chosen for such a prominent
The tragic tale of the
promiscuous heroine who yearns for freedom is an accessible yet
intense love story.
Opera is often criticised for
being elitist, but thankfully the Kentish Opera make it accessible
to all through their production while still retaining all the
required passion and professionalism expected.
The driving force behind Kentish
Opera's many big successes in recent years has been the talent.
enthusiasm and creativity of the company's artistic director,
Ms Langford now has
a production team around her than even some professional opera
companies might envy.
It has to be said, that last
week's performance of Bizet's work was full of surprises. The
company had decided to set the action in Mexico rather than in
Spain and gypsy smugglers had been moved from their mountain
haven to an area close to an old mineshaft.
Several of the sequences had
been reshaped to provide subtle differences in dramatic impact,
while Carmen was strangled by her former lover Don Jose rather
than stabbed to death.
The choice of location
was immaterial but it is hard to find a valid reason for the
switch to Mexico.
Gaynor Keeble and Paullne Birchall
who shared the title role over the week both gave classic performances
and generated sensuality with facial expressions ranging from
utter scorn to an impish 'come and get me' look.
With bustling crowd
scenes, clever sets and good work by the Bromley Boy Singers,
the audience loved the performance.
Roy Atterbury and
13th June 2003. Churchill
Theatre, Bromley. (Kentish Opera), Director, Sally Langford.
Musical Director, Mark FitzGerald.
Kentish Opera gave a
cracking performance of this popular opera in the acoustically
greedy but comfortable red plush of this auditorium. The proscenium
curtain above, too, means the singers have to keep well forward
to maintain equal vocal projection.
I could write pages
about this lively production by Sally Langford and her superb
team. However I am constrained to limit the credits, but any
omissions are entirely invidious. The cast, both backstage and
front, was outstanding; costumes in keeping with the contemporary
Andalucian gypsy and military style, and set cunningly devised
to satisfy all Acts with a strong tall derrick as centrepiece
in Act Three which was, perhaps, a trifle overpowering, belittling
the doomful card playing and unusually replacing the rocky mountains
for the smugglers entry and its catchy air.
The excellent orchestra
(leader Philip Winter) was conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald who
(do I cavil?) tended to treat the sentimental arias and that
sexy flute introduction to Act Three some-what stolidly and less
relaxed than I would have liked. A little more breathing space
please sir, but otherwise lovely lines, contrasting colours and
The factory girls were
uncharacteristically very subdued at the end of their morning
shift in Act One, but soon got worked up as Carmen (Pauline Burchell)
began the affray. And what a Carmenl This warm-voiced dramatic
Mezzo was the epitome of the gay, sensuous gypsy we have come
to expect as she tempted Don Jose (David Newman) beyond his endurance.
He was totally convincing as the cast-off lover, with vocal expertise
that never faltered. No doubt for political reasons DJ was not
able to bring himself to knifing his scomful lady but decided
garotting would the more acceptable to herl
Escamillo (Paul Napier
Burrows) was the man who got in the way and not surprising as
this full, rich voiced toreador with his fearless cavortings
captured the wild gypsy girl.
Micaela (Yvonne Patrick)
must surely have been the ideal choice for those two big moments,
enchanting as the disappointed go-between from DJ's off-stage
match-making mother. A rewarding singer whose heartfelt passion
and clear lines moved us to acknowledge the unfairness of love.
The chorus was excellent
and full-voiced. Then there were those splendid Bromley Boy Singers
(Director-Richard Apsley) who sang out and marched spiritedly
and joyfully with soldiers, gypsies and locals alike.
Gordon Bull - Words
and Music, September/October 2003