Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Angela Hogan - Carmen
Music by Georges Bizet,

Presented by Melbourne Opera

Canberra Theatre 12th May 2012.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Bizet’s “Carmen” with its passionate dramatic melodies and exotic seductive heroine, is one of the most popular operas in the operatic repertoire, and the Canberra Theatre was filled to near-capacity for this much anticipated performance by Melbourne Opera.  

Melbourne Opera has been a welcome visitor to Canberra for some years and has steadily built up a loyal audience for its modest, well-mounted productions which it augments with a chorus of Canberra singers, and for this production, a local children’s chorus trained by Dianna Nixon.

“Carmen” got off to a promising start with the Melbourne Opera Orchestra sounding sonorous and responsive in the famous overture which Greg Hocking conducted at a cracking pace. However, the orchestra proved to be one of the major pleasures of this lacklustre production, which struggled to match the drama of the music, and in which many details appeared to have been lost enroute.

The singing throughout was excellent. Angela Hogan, with her mop of curly red hair, was a glamorous, striking Carmen, revealing a voice of rich colour and striking timbre which was shown to best advantage in the dramatic scenes.  Her characterisation was less secure particularly in the awkward transitions between sung and spoken dialogue.  She received little help from the direction which often left her unsupported, or from her Don Jose (Jason Wasley) who sang well but was dramatically reticent so that their scenes together to generated  little sexual chemistry.

Vocal highlights were provided by Phillip Calcagno as the flamboyant toreador, Escamillo, and Lee Abrahmsen, demure and appealing as Micaela.  Nicole Wallace and Caroline Vercoe were suitably exuberant as Carmen’s friends, Frasquita and Mercedes. Experienced performers Roger Howell and Ian Cousens both managed to invest some dramatic intensity to their roles as Zuniga and Dancairo, despite pedestrian direction which showed little interest in achieving dramatic credibility, with the performers, for the most part, singing directly out to the audience, regardless of whether they were singing solo, duet or ensemble, and often resorting to old-fashioned operatic gestures.  

 Andrew Bellchambers abstract curved setting  looked  too small on  the Canberra Theatre stage and provided little in the way of atmosphere, except in the final act when it  did suggest the inside of a bull-ring. However the audience was left wondering at the end of this scene, why nobody from the watching crowd went to Carmen’s aid as Don Jose knifed her to death in the centre of the bull-ring.

Many of the costumes, particularly those for the chorus, were ill-fitting and appeared to have pieces missing, and there were some inappropriate footwear and hairstyles onstage. At least one of the three dancers did not know her choreography, which also helped detract from the overall appearance and professionalism of the production.

At the end of the performance, following the bows, Conductor Greg Hocking addressed the audience to encourage them to express their feelings against the changes being mooted at the Canberra School of Music. It was an empathetic, thoughtful gesture that was greeted with thunderous, heartfelt applause.