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Opera Review: Carmen by the Welsh National Opera at the Mayflower Southampton

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CarmenThe Welsh National Opera come to the Mayflower Theatre twice a year with a programme of performances in both the Winter and the Spring. This Winter they brought to the Southampton venue three Operas as part of their themed season, ‘Liberty or Death!’: Bizet’s Carmen, Rossini’s William Tell and Moses in Egypt.

This review covers the first performance in the season, Carmen, and with it being my first experience of the Opera, I had a night to remember.

The first performance of Carmen was in Paris in the late 1800s (3rd March 1875 to be precise), and with strong themes of female liberty and sexuality, this Opera was way ahead of its time and this is all the more reason for it is still being performed over 100 years later.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Carmen follows the story of a gypsy of the same name. She is arrested and then released by enticing the soldier who is guarding her, Don José, who then spends time in prison during which she attracts the attention of bullfighter, Escamillo. The rest is a fraught battle for Carmen’s love.

Carmen is musically fantastic, performed impeccably by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra led by James Southall. For someone who has never seen an opera, it is surprising how many melodies in the performances you recognise and know very well. This element of the show makes it familiar, yet in the context of the story it is new and exciting for a new generation of first-time opera-goers. The use of these classic melodies in popular culture give them a different meaning making it all the more magical seeing it performed in its original set up.

The characterisation of Don José allowed the audience to follow his dilemma through to the end. A dilemma that was not to simply choose between two women - there was an added element of the pull of loyalty to his mother. With the casting of Jessica Muierhead as Micaëla, this element of family loyalty of a son to their mother is intensified when their relationship is put on the back burner as she explains to Don José that his mother is dying. This scene gives the goody-two-shoes girl from home more depth in her honourable and intelligent approach to holding up the action. A reality check for Don José is what she brings to the equation, and it is less about the messed up love triangle she has found herself in and more about family values and what truly matters. A moment that stands Micaëla out as more than just a background character is her solo performance in Act Three. Jessica Muierhead delivers this with passion and precision making it a standout performance of the piece.

Overall the performance was a delightful first experience of the Opera, one that was easy to follow and kept me enthralled throughout. I would urge anyone to go and see the Welsh National Opera perform, especially if you haven’t been to the Opera before.

The Welsh National Opera will return to the Mayflower Theatre for their Spring programme in March 2015 with Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretal, and Chorus! which is an ensemble of Opera’s greatest moments. Definitely not a season to miss.

You can buy your tickets from the Mayflower website here.

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