IT IS quite an achievement making me long for the interval during the first half of a Bizet’s Carmen. Unfortunately, the second half was even more dreary.

Director Jo Davies has been bitten by the #MeToo bug (according to yawn-inducing programme notes) but quite why that requires dragging us to some 1970s South American military regime was baffling (and from murmurings, baffled the audience as well).

Carmen becomes a gun-toting revolutionary gun runner. She remains the “independent” woman who will not be controlled by a man (in reality just bouncing from one to another). Yet here she has actually been turned into a nasty piece of work, a violent and selfish sadist, epitomised by when she pours alcohol over an officer and teases him with a burning match. Franky, I was glad to see the back of her when Don Jose wields the knife.


Don Jose comes out as the real victim. Rather wet, as much as the innocent as Micaela who is sent by his mum to try to bring him home, seduced and exploited and then bullied, taunted and dumped by this vile woman whose neurosis moves her on to her next sex buddy, the toreador Escamillo. Is this had been a male character we would have hated her just as much.

Just as dreary as the updating and characterisations is Leslie Travers’ design of what looks like a dilapidated block of cheap flats built around a curved courtyard (think bullring), which then becomes what resembles an unfinished Torremolinos timeshare.

Vocally, thank goodness for the singing from our Carmen, Virginie Verrez overcoming the hindrance of the direction to sing a warm mezzo. Dmitri Pittas as Don José is certainly passionate and robust but never quite garnering our sympathy. Phillip Rhodes looks the part of a cross between haughty toreador and modern pop idol Escamillo while Anita Watson sings a heartfelt and composed Micaela.

It was difficult to tell how much the unevenness of the evening was due to WNO’s musical director Tomáš Hanus reading of the score or just everything pulled down by the production that rather than enhanced our enjoyment of the work worked against it. Eyes tightly closed next time.

By Mike Smith