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Seductive dominance: Justina Gringyté as Carmen

Craig Dacey

Review: Carmen

9:32, 3rd February 2020

Carmen – Bizet

English National Opera

 

Calixto Bieito’s production of Bizet’s Carmen returns to the English National Opera, eight years since its first staging at the London Coliseum. This is a vocally strong revival, with American tenor Sean Panikkar stealing the show, commanding in his role debut as Don José – a superb portrait of a jealous soldier ensnared by the charms of the irresistible Carmen.

The contemporary production feels minimalist – the stage seems empty at times with occasional illusions to remind us of its Spanish setting: a fluttering nationalist flag, a cut-out of a bull…  Fortunately, the production is rooted by the presence of the accomplished Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyté in the title role, playfully exuding her seductive dominance.

ENO Mackerras Fellow Valentina Peleggi’s conducting teetered on perfection if it weren’t for several passages that felt uncomfortably rushed, dragging the lyrical line into a tongue-tied mess. I am certain that as the run continues, the tempo will settle, making it more pleasant to follow.

Escamillo, played by the imposing baritone Ashley Riches, held his own with a self-assured, heroic depiction of the toreador who drives José to murderous jealousy. British soprano Nardus Williams is another young singer to watch, making her role and house debut as Micaëla. Williams’ strong combination of voice and acting at full tilt was a delight to witness, giving what can be a pallid role some well-deserved life.

Bieito’s acclaimed production is still as relatable as ever, although it can seem like over-hammed G&S in parts. That aside, this Carmen is an appealing and popular vehicle for the ENO to start healing some sore wounds that have afflicted the company in recent months.

 

Carmen continues until 27 February. eno.org

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