Following last year’s sell-out production of the Magic Flute, Edinburgh Studio Opera (ESO) returns with another sold out production – this time – Carmen, a tragic love story directed by Brock Roberts. However, whilst many will have heard the many of the classic songs in their original French, in the ESO performance this classic opera is performed in English.
Written in 1875 by Georges Bizet, Carmen was originally set during the 1820s. However, ESO’s production has followed the more recent trend of setting the opera in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, to put it in more recent memory and to demonstrate the repressive rule of Franco. Carmen is a classic operatic love story which tells the story of a gypsy woman, Carmen, who seduces Don José, a soldier. However when he refuses to abandon his duties in the army for her, Carmen falls for a toreador Escamillo. This leads to Don José tragically killing Carmen out of jealousy.
Although being performed in English it was still fairly hard to understand what was happening at all times if you are unaware of the plot of the opera, through no fault of the performers. However, despite this some of the well-known Carmen classics still lived up to their reputation, particularly notable was ‘Habanera’ and the ‘Toreador song’.
As with any opera, the orchestra was a fundamental part of the show which helped carry the actors from start to finish. Conducted by Will Conway and offstage by Nathaniel Fletcher, the orchestra was a highlight of the show, serenading the audience through the classic and well-known Carmen songs.
The set immediately put the production into context as a huge portrait of General Franco at the side of the stage stares menacingly at the audience. The rest of the set consisted of a few archways designed to look as though they were made of stone and provided a Spanish feel to the show right from the start. The tech for the show, designed by Ciara Milligan, consisted of mainly naturalistic lighting which added another element of realism to the show. Most notable was the light-up sign, built by Matthew James, used in Acts 2 and 3 which marked the scene transition to Lillas’ inn.
It was clear from the start that the ESO cast consisted of some remarkable singers, with every song demonstrating the skills of everyone involved. Monica Toll gave a particularly commendable performance of Micaëla, a girl from Don José’s village who is in love with him. She was the performer who particularly stood out for me, especially during ‘Micaëla’s Aria’, in which she gave a performance which really showed the range of her abilities in every aspect.
However, that being said, despite the singing being flawless, in general the acting was often a little awkward. Some of the chorus work was a little messy, this was largely due to the fact that it was such a big cast meaning that it took a long time to get the cast on and off stage. This was especially interesting when the entire cast left and re-entered down the aisle through the audience which was a bit stampede-like. However, in spite of some of the downsides when it came to the acting, the singing of all the lead roles was commendable, particularly Carmen (played by Anna Keenan) and Don José (played by Robert Forrest), which arguably made up for some fault, which mainly seemed like a lack of direction.
Overall, if you are a newbie to opera watching it in English does make it slightly easier to understand the plot, and the well-known songs also helped to maintain the enjoyment of the show. Despite various downfalls in some of the aspects of the performance, ESO’s Carmen demonstrates some of the operatic talent in Edinburgh, and all performers should be commended for their flawless singing.