Opera review: Carmen, Cork Opera House

****

Staging opera is notoriously expensive and few theatres can afford it. Cork Opera House, however, has worked out a very sensible middle route in collaboration with that exceptionally gifted conductor/ director John O’Brien, offering full concert performances of popular works to the city’s many opera buffs.

Last year they gave us La Traviata and The Merry Widow. Saturday night saw Carmen performed in concert format to a packed house, and the only crib on an enjoyable night was the late finish of 11.15pm.

O’Brien always brings creative magic to any performance he directs and in Carmen he avoided the mechanical blankness so often experienced in such concerts by blending the full orchestra with artists onstage into a colourful melange which added a delightful atmosphere.

The inclusion of juvenile voices from Cór Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh Cailiní in the crowd scenes was another excellent notion; but then, what else do you expect from the man who enlivened a 2015 production of Faust with an unexpected appearance by the entire Barrack Street Brass Band?

Mezzo soprano Raphaela Mangan gave a superb performance in the title role, showing the necessary strength and wilfulness of the gypsy girl, as well as rendering such popular arias as the Habanera with a haunting quality that drew spontaneous applause from the audience. Soprano Sinead Campbell-Wallace brought a purity of voice and presentation to Micaela, while Hrolfur Saemundsson made an entertaining character of the boastful toreador, Escamillo.

Julian Hubbard as Don Jose deserves mention for the anguish with which he imbued his arias, especially the great final duet when he stabs the woman who is no longer his.


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