Friday, February 7, 2014



Nancy Fabiola Herrara as Carmen 
Conductor:              Antony Walker

Director:                  Francesca Zambello

Revival Director:   Matthew Barclay

Designer:                Tanya McCallin

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Choreographer:      Arthur Pita


Opera Australia

Sydney Opera House until March 29th 2014


Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.


The success of any production of Bizet’s “Carmen” is largely dependent of the casting of the three main roles. So returning to this production, first seen in the Sydney Opera House in 2008, following last year’s imaginative and audacious staging of the same opera, by Gale Edwards, for the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, fuelled as it was with Kelly Abbey’s flamboyant choreography and the riveting performance of Rinat Shaham in the title role, the initial reaction was that it seemed a bit staid and dull.

However, once Spanish soprano, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, hit the stage, wilful, tempestuous and thoroughly captivating as Carmen, the temperature rose immediately and things never looked back. 

Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen 

Besides possessing the requisite lustrous, malleable, mezzo-soprano voice, Ms Fabiola Herrera also looks ravishing, dances passionately, and is a superb actress, so thoroughly possessing the role so that it is hard to take your eyes off her whenever she’s on stage, which is exactly as this role is meant to be. 
Nancy Fabiola Herrara as Carmen with artists of Opera Australia

Dmytro Popov as Don Jose
Fabiola Herrara is surrounded by a superb cast lead by Dmytro Popov as Don Jose. Popov played this role last year in the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production, but this more intimate opera house setting provides a better opportunity to appreciate his fine interpretation of the pitiable Don Jose hopelessly torn between love and duty. His superb performance of the “Flower Song” earned him sustained applause from the first night audience.


Natalie Aroyan as Micaela

Natalie Aroyan as Micaela, impressed with her sweet, clear soprano, and her ability to capture the fragility and resilience of the young woman sent on an impossible mission to persuade Don Jose to return home to comfort his dying mother.

Michael Honeyman as Escamillo

Michael Honeyman as the toreador Escamillo made a fine entrance astride a tall white horse and sang the “Toreador Song” with gusto and assurance amidst the well-staged crowd scene. However he was not served well by his costumes, especially the unfortunate gaucho chaps in the second act.

Adrian Tamburini is impressively menacing as the opportunistic Lieutenant Zuniga, and Jane Ede and Tania Ferris were both excellent as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes, especially in the quintet where together with Sam Roberts-Smith and Luke Gabbedy as the smugglers, Dancairo and Remendado, they try to persuade Carmen to join them on an adventure.

Though Paule Constable has made good use of hot sun and shadows effects in her lighting design, Tanya McCallin’s sets look claustrophobic on the opera house stage, and despite the best efforts of the huge chorus and well-rehearsed children, to capture the atmosphere of mid- 19th century Seville, many of the crowd scenes were cramped and stagey. The Toreador’s arrival in Lillas Pastia’s tavern generated real excitement, (the horse had a lot to do with that), but the parade of the matadors in the final scene, apart from the elaborate mobile altar, was decidedly skimpy and unexciting.
The final scene between the two, where Don Jose finally stabs Carmen to death, is hair-raising, even more so on opening night when Don Jose forgot his dagger, and had to stab Carmen to death with his bare hands.

Nancy Fabiola Herrara and Dmytro Popov in the final scene

But this opera is all about Carmen, Don Jose and Escamillo, and of course, Georges Bizet’s wonderful music. Any lack of visual excitement is more than compensated by the fine singing and passionate, performances of the principals, and the music, in the capable hands of the excellent Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Antony Walker, receives exactly  the spirited, exciting performance it was meant for.

                                                        All photos by Branco Gaica