Wednesday 17 October 2007

Catch up (1)

Owing to family matters, I have not managed to mention my last 2 musical outings, so here are brief notes about them.

On Friday we went to see Sally Potter's new production of Carmen at the London Coliseum with Alice Coote in the title role. First of all, the good bits. Edward Gardner conducts a fine, lively account of the score with Alice Coote giving a beautifully sung and completely unhackneyed version of the title role. Potter brings a number of different arts to the staging including tango dancing, break dancing and video. She assembles these with breathtaking daring and some of the set pieces are truly wonderful to look at.


Neither ENO website nor the programme book gives any detail about what edition of the score they are using. No mention of whether we are going to here Guiraud, standard opera comique, Fritz Oeser or one of the other more recent editions. The only positive note is that the ENO website includes excerpts from the recent Chandos recording, which uses a brand new edition based on Bizet's own publication of the vocal score.

As it turns out, the matter of the edition becomes secondary because Potter omits all dialogue of any form. The version performed is the standard opera comique version (I think) with ALL spoken dialogue omitted. The passages which were written to underscore the dialogue become dance/music-and-movement numbers. This completely undercuts the careful balance that Bizet gave to the opera, carefully grading the movement between dialogue, melodrama and full singing. All this goes for naught.

It also means that the first time we hear Don Jose open his mouth, it is to sing to Micaela. All his previous dialogue is cut so all he can do when Carmen first appears is silently emote, unfortunately this is not Julian Gavin's strong point. Alice Coote's Carmen is similarly hampered, we never hear her laughing, we never hear her taunting Don Jose. Whether because of this, or for other reasons, Coote's Carmen is not particularly gypsy-ish; but in omitting the gypsy element Coote and Potter have omitted the really dark, fatalistic element from Carmen's character. Coote sings Carmen beautifully, but this beautiful singing is really her dominant characteristic. I now need urgently to see Coote singing the role in a proper production with a more complex account the role.

A further sin, in my book, is the for large chunk of the score Christopher Cowell's translation bears little resemblance to the original. One of the problems is that in updating the piece to the present, Potter has chosen to make Don Jose a security guard rather than a soldier. This means that the changing of the guard in Act 1 goes for nothing, the children's chorus has become a rather bizarre chorus of first communicants? Perhaps Potter sees the first Act as the pull between good and evil, as the factory girls are now become ladies of the night.

Don Jose's dilemma in Act 3, when the trumpet sounds La retraite, becomes instead a risible sequence with his mobile phone. The result is that, instead of suffering because he wants to obey his regiment, Jose becomes just another guy who puts work above his woman.

The worst change, from my point of view, comes at the opening of Act 4, where the chorus are all modern day sight-seers. The parade of toreadors and picadors etc is replaced by dancers and break-dancers (very exciting indeed) and at one point the chorus sings that they have no idea what is going on (neither do we). This scene is excellently staged, it just doesn't have much to do with Bizet's drama.

Act 2 takes place in a modern bar, with one of Potter's best ideas; a group of flamenco dancers played en travestie by some v. tall men, the result is rather Almodovar and shows what she can do. This act, though suffers quite badly from the general problems with personen regie, there are times when Potter just does not seem to know what to do with people and leaves them stranded. This applies in all the acts.

Despite the piece seeming more like a Readers Digest version of the opera, the lack of dialogue harms the piece's dramatic impetus. So that despite some excellent singing and playing, the result comes over as rather heavy.

This is one of those projects where someone, early on in the process, should have explained to Potter exactly what an opera staging could (and couldn't be). ENO should have then have had the courage of its convictions by either allowing Potter to create a stage work loosely based on Bizet (as others like Peter Brook have done in the past) alternatively they should have ensured that Potter kept a minimum of dialogue and kept the changes to the text within the bounds of propriety.

This was a great missed opportunity and certainly a step back for a company which has always, in the past, prided itself on using correct, proper and up to date editions of scores. We can just about forgive Covent Garden for its fondness for old and out of date editions when they field international casts who might not have time to rehearse acres of French dialogue. But ENO, with fine English speaking casts have no excuse and so should be priding themselves on using proper editions of the pieces they perform.

Though I enjoyed some of the big moments, I cannot think of a reason why I will ever need to see this production again, which is a profound shame and a great waste of talent.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month