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Opera Australia’s scintillating production of Carmen February 13, 2011

Posted by Alan Yu in Classical, Music, Opera.
Tags: , , ,

Sydney Opera House, Opera Theatre

Sydney, Australia

Tuesday February 8th, 2011

Carmen Georges Bizet

Opera Australia

Guillaume Tourniaire, Conductor

Francesca Zambello, Director

Rinat Shaham, Mezzo-soprano: Carmen

Richard Troxell, Tenor: Don José

Nicole Car, Soprano: Micaëla

Shane Lowrencev, Baritone: Escamillo

Opera Australia Chorus

Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra

In an opera of such popularity as Carmen by Georges Bizet, it wouldn’t be easy to please an audience likely to be inured to a variety of performances of arias such as Habanera and The Toreador’s Song. Yet Opera Australia made a thoughtfully constructed and well vindicated attempt.

It is well accepted that the role of Carmen has to be quite outstanding for any production of the opera to be successful.  Israeli mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham is every inch the sensuous, taunting, manipulative vixen she has to be.  Her voice is tenacious, her tone exudes Latin passion, her phrasing is expressive and her writhing choreography finely chisels her mercurial gypsy character that pervades the entire production.

In sharp contrast to the fickle and vituperative Carmen, the purity of heart and rustic innocence embodied in Micaëla provide a soothing overlay to what is otherwise a harsh and brutal story.  Nicole Car’s portrayal of this piteous antipathy to Carmen in the solo in Act III is easily the moving tear-jerker in the entire performance.

Richard Troxell has a fine tenor voice that does not tear into the high notes with vehemence.  His performance as the somewhat faint-hearted and susceptible Don José is very credible and quite rightly exasperating.

Shane Lowrencev, tall and slim, cuts a dashing figure as Escamillo, the opportunistic and vain torero that eventually captures Carmen’s heart and causes Don José’s downfall.  His voice is less robust than it needs to be, and therefore carries with it less of the virility that the part requires, at times drowned by the unobtrusive orchestral accompaniment.  Yet visually his height effectively towers over the diminutive Don José – quite a clever stroke of casting.

Under the direction of Guillaume Tourniaire, the orchestra puts up a fine performance, in various places accentuating Bizet’s skill as an orchestral composer.  The elegant interplay between flute and harp that opens Act III is refreshing and delightful, providing an apt suggestion of Micaëla’s solo a few moments later.

The costume and set deserve some mention as well.  The simple but solid backdrop provides vital and very flexible support to the changes in mood and ambience of the four acts.  The garish, gold-plated costume of the bull-fighters in the last act, accompanied by a richly decorated cart of flowers, brings the show to a dazzling conclusion.

I suspect that even the most Carmen-weary audience would have been totally satisfied with Opera Australia’s production.

(This review also appears in Backtrack.com)



1. Lily - February 15, 2011

I saw this production at the domain in January, and my dad, Dr So, showed me to your site! I completely agree with your evaluation, and I was equally impressed by Rinat Shaham!

Keep up the concert attendances!


Alan Yu - February 15, 2011

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed the performance, and am glad you did too.



2. samson - February 16, 2011

Another great review Alan and now I know what I’d missed. I saw the sizzling performance of Aussie Catherine Carby in the 2008 Carmen, her velvety voice was memorable; though probably different from Rint Shaham…

3. Alan Yu - February 17, 2011

Thank you, Samson, for your loyal support. Take care.



4. Wayne McEvilly - February 20, 2011

Alan –
I enjoy your use of language. There are two operas I really love – One is the Magic Flute and the other isn’t. Well, to be more precise, the other is Carmen. I love how you describe Shaham’s Carmen “Her voice is tenacious” – and ” her writhing choreography finely chisels her mercurial gypsy character that pervades the entire production..” is especially vivid, pictorial. Felt almost present! Thanks.

Alan Yu - February 20, 2011

Wayne, thanks for your massive support. Incidentally, I saw The Magic Flute a couple of years ago, and described it thus to a friend (that was before I started my blog):

‘Last night I saw The Magic Flute presented by Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House. I had a couple of hours to spare, and got a ticket at the last minute. I sat in the first row, immediately behind the conductor and looking straight into the orchestra pit. I could read the conductor’s score – that is, if I were able to read music.

The Opera Theatre is much smaller than I thought, not much bigger than the APA Lyric Theatre. The production is highly innovative, with a great deal of acrobatic help from Legs on the Wall, described in the programme as “ Australia ’s physical theatre company”. There is plenty of action throughout, and small devices that help create a sense of magic. The Queen of the Night descends from above the stage on the crescent of a moon, hung in the air with wires for safety.

The set is cleverly done. That in the first act looks like a tropical rain forest, and that of the second act contains a marble-like facade filling the entire height of the stage. The cold, smooth surface of the facade decorated with mystic patterns gives strong suggestions of Freemasonry. The centre of the facade opens up to reveal an open chamber that rotates a full 360 degrees. The stage slopes slightly from back to front towards the orchestra pit. The design enables water in a water curtain to slide into an opening at the centre of the stage towards at the end of the show, but creates quite a hazard for the actors. There are several occasions on which some of the actors, especially Papageno, look as if they were about to fall into the orchestra pit.

The costumes are quite a mixture of classical and modern designs. Papageno dresses like a clownish tramp, his shirt tails hanging out and fully equipped with a portable barbecue and the obligatory six packs of beer. Tamino’s long gown resembles an Emperor’s dress from the Ching Dynasty, and Sarasto and his cohorts wear long gowns that hark back to the Middle Ages. The female chorus is all in modern dress suits.

The singing is all done in German, with intervening dialogue in English. Papageno is delightfully entertaining with his Cockney accent and an Irish gift of the gab. The orchestra starts the overture rather tentatively, trying to find the right colour and clearly lacking the Mozartean charm at first. It eventually settles down to an even tone that gives unobtrusive support to the singers. The singing is of a high quality, with the Queen of the Night competently tackling the most challenging aria. Sarasto’s bass does full justice to the character’s moral authority.

Overall, a very thoughtful, well-executed and thoroughly enjoyable production.’


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