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Carmen at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
Event: -
New version by Welsh National Opera
This new version of Bizet's well-loved opera has been moved from Spain to the Hispanic heat of Central America.

Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome, review, UK tour
This Carmen is set in 1970's Central America


Welsh National Opera's Carmen is part of its Autumn season at Birmingham Hippodrome, which also includes Verdi's Rigoletto and Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen until Saturday November 9. This production of Carmen will also return to Birmingham Hippodrome in May next year but with a new cast.

As soon as you enter the theatre, the mood is set for the heat and passion of this dramatic opera with the stunning fiery coloured stage screen designed by Leslie Travers. Beautiful shades of reds with hidden images within it instead of a curtain to get lost in while listening to that memorable overture.

Jo Davies' new production modernises Carmen to not just move the location but also the era, setting it in the 1970s amid a bustling favela style shanty town.

Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome, review, UK tour
Carmen is a temptress that Don Jose can't resist


It's a good move as the latin passion fits in well with the storyline - about spirited seductress Carmen who tempts honourable soldier Don Jose into sacrificing his career for her but then moves on to another lover with devastating consequences.

In this, the gypsy temptress is fiesty with much more of a dangerous edge than I've seen before. This Carmen is part of a guerilla group, knocking back tequila, waving around a machine gun and training up a children's militia.

There really are some beautiful touches that fit perfectly with the new era. Carmen hiding a handgun in a child's teddy bear and tango dancers bringing the atmosphere of Latin America, for instance.

This iconic opera is a crowd-pleaser for fans of the genre but also perfect for newcomers to opera. That's because it's easy to understand, packed with drama and has the alluring soundtrack from French composer Bizet.

Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome, review, UK tour
When love turns sour


Sung in French with English surtitles, there are songs that have become well known from advertisements and TV dramas. Pieces like the Toreador Song or Carmen's provocative Habanera.

Playing Carmen is the French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez, who not only entices with her superb voice but also by the way she transforms Carmen into a woman who is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Poor Don Jose doesn't stand a chance.

Dimitri Pittas as Don Jose gives a heartfelt performance that demonstrates well the effect of a broken heart and jealousy on his mental health. The brutal way that he inflicts his revenge on Carmen has a realism and passion about it.

Carmen, WNO, Birmingham Hippodrome, review, UK tour
Don Jose's passion for Carmen leaves heartbreak for others


Also impressing as bullfighter Escamillo is New Zealand's Phillip Rhodes, who has the charisma and voice to charm not just Carmen but the audience too. The feel of the bar scene with his magnificent entrance is a highlight of the production.

They say no man can resist the charms of femme fatale Carmen but with a vibrant new version like this, it will be hard for anyone to resist this well thought out opera either.

Original, edgy and full of passion.

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Why? See new version of popular opera Carmen
When: Until 8 November
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Birmingham
Cost: From 22
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