Storytelling. With Benefits

We review the latest production of “Carmen” at the English National Opera at London’s Coliseum, and note that its message and moral, is just as relevant. “Carmen” remains a story of all of our times.

Valentina Peleggi strides into the orchestra ensemble. She acknowledges  the gentle applause, motions to her orchestra to stand briefly – and then quickly we are off!  It is fast, furious, the melodies, swiftly move from one to the next. And there is a difference. There is an anxiousness. This is no Mozart comedy.

And then Micaela – played by the excellent Nardus Williams, making her ENO debut – gently walks into view, amongst the military who are setting the scene. And the opera proper, begins…

‘Carmen”, for me, has always held a soft spot. It was my first opera I ever truly studied as a kid. It has a universal message. In that sense, this production rarely touches the emotional deepens of say a Puccini, or a Verdi. But it may not need to to. It is storytelling after all, and it is family storytelling, the little children swarming early on, and inclusion later.

Having said that, there are some superb emotional moments; Sean Panikkar excels as Don Jose, the sadness in his “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee”, and chemistry with Nardus Williams. Plus the spot on performance and leadership of Ellie Laugharne and Samantha Price, as Frasquita and Mercedes respectively.  It is crisp, very tight, very controlled, and it is a journey about sexual and emotional control.  A story indeed.  With benefits.

ITS PANTOMIME TIME! OH NO IT ISN’T!

We sit back and laugh out loud at this latest rethink of the Offenbach classic, “Orpheus In The Underworld” – and ask; how can we laugh – and be disturbed, at the same time.

You can argue that this “Orpheus….” has everything. It is quite astonishing. It is a fusion of extraordinary drama, of sublime choral sound, of sheep that go ”bah bah” in time to the music; of myriads of balloons, that seem to be the leitmotiv (balloons are everywhere), as a symbol of transitory suspension between two worlds I suppose.

It is Mozart on steroids – a sort of Magic Flute but where there is no happy ending. Which is why you will not take your little kids to this run up to Christmas entertainment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this performance has “wit and charm” – it is simply seriously funny. But in her chat discussion just a few weeks earlier, director Emma Rice indicated that this is going to be a different take – and she did not disappoint. The melodies of the first Act soon give way to sexual depravity, male hedonism, and the implicit conclusion that if you play with the Devil, then be careful what you wish for.

Except that Eurydice – played by Mary Bevan – has no particular wish to play with the Devil as such. Mary’s melodies, interpretation and dramatic art of her journey from one world to another, and the realisation of what marriage is – are the stand out features of this performance and I found myself reminded of when i first saw her in ”Two Boys” all those years ago, the ability to stand alone on stage and carry the audience with her.

And then we have Alex Otterburn, who was very funny, self-deprecating, as Pluto, with his West Country shepherd accent. A sort of Moliere’s “Tartuffe”. As I travel back to Devon as I write this piece, I would have loved to have seen more of this – but what the heck!

This is a cast of exceptional performers, each contributing vital elements. I loved Ellie Laugharne as Cupid. I could go on.

My first recollection of ENO’s “Orpheus” as a young teenager, used a tube train as the slapstick way to travel between worlds. Emma’s use of a London Taxi and cabbie, for the public opinion, is better, and just so ridiculous, the little things where the taxi does not start, for example.

Perhaps this is why I left the Coliseum excited and yet confused. We take for granted now the edginess of ENO productions, the taking of Opera to its limits. This performance continues that trend cum laude. The mix of elements that really should not go together, or how can anybody even think they go together – but somehow they do – that can deliver not satisfaction but a darker truth?

But again, this is to be picky. This is thought provoking entertainment on so many levels. Just don’t bring the kids, at least not yet.