La Tragédie de Carmen
Asylum Chapel, Peckham
Reviewed – 25th September 2018
“In spite of all that was missing, the work remains a sequence of irresistible tunes, heroically produced”
In taking modest versions of great operas to pubs, barns and disused factories, companies such as Pop-Up Opera provide a surprising percentage of the country’s operatic performances each year. Their stated mission is to find new audiences for opera, which opera could well do with, judging by some critics’ sniffy reviews of the format. But although this shoestring version of Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen, itself already a shoestring version of the real thing, deserves support and encouragement, it is easy to see their dilemma.
Brook’s original adaptation uses a small orchestra. Pop-Up Opera’s solo piano is an obvious budget choice but there is no way it can make up for the richly expressive textures of the music. One instrument, for example a flute, would add colour and spirit to the evening, especially during the vocal breaks when the piano fails to take the emotional reins. Musical director, Berrak Dyer does an excellent job of the transcription, but castanets and distant bugles can’t easily be produced by the same instrument.
Chloe Latchmore’s warm mezzo tones fill the Asylum as she seduces Don José. We miss a gypsy vitality in both her on-stage movement and in her dynamic range, which, in some places, could come down in volume to allow for dramatic growth. We enjoy a more nuanced rendering by Satriya Krisna as José and James Corrigan’s Escamillo has a dramatic presence despite his baritone voice being overshadowed by the piano and other members of the cast. Soprano, Alice Privett, shines as Micaëla, singing with sensibility and passion.
The portable element of the set is clearly a ‘must’ for the company, who are constantly changing venues, but it demands great resourcefulness of Director John Wilkie. The choice of a draughty but aesthetically pleasing church in Peckham is perfect in principle, but aside from acoustically it’s not really used. The soaring and plummeting emotions are coaxed out on a tiny stage, in front of a small projector screen which is shared by Harry Percival’s English captions, looped scenes from the Spanish civil war and creative use of shadow puppetry. Lighting is desultory; small spotlights on stands fiercely illuminate the performers’ faces from a low angle limiting their expressiveness, which, in a production already bereft of chorus, orchestra and scenery, seems harsh on all present.
In spite of all that was missing, the work remains a sequence of irresistible tunes, heroically produced.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Ugo Soffientini
La Tragédie de Carmen
Touring until 23rd November
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