Bizet’s classic opera is retold in this unconventional staging at the Royal Opera House, directed by Barrie Kosky.
In this modern production the paintbox colours, twirling dresses and cigarettes are replaced with a single vast staircase spanning the height and width of the stage, facilitating a highly creative yet minimalistic presentation. The chorus arrange themselves in tiers allowing us to see every performance, and characters are able to emphasise power dynamics and relationships through the drastic height differences available.
Gaëlle Arquez, in the title role, was reportedly on an off day, but didn’t allow it to show in her performance. Other standouts were Alexey Markov as the Toreador Escamillo, and Susanna Hurrell as Michaela, who dazzles with the room-filling vocals she somehow releases from her petite frame.
The show features stunning contemporary choreography, the more technical aspects of which are taken on by a small dance troupe who contribute the show’s most striking visual elements. In the fight against cliché some slightly questionable decisions are made, most notably the unfathomable choice to have Carmen emerge from a Gorilla suit during her opening number.
Also added is a voiceover which sets the scene for each act. This is partly to help guide us through the sparse staging, but also contributes to a general sense of postmodern irony exhibited throughout via subtle winks to the audience. While this is sure to divide opinion, the Teflon melodies, beautifully performed by cast and orchestra, are guaranteed to rouse even the most traditional opera-head, and make enjoying this production easy-Bizet.