Monday, 1 October 2018

Pared down & claustrophobic: La Tragédie de Carmen from Pop-Up Opera

Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - Chloe Latchmore, Satriya Krisna - Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - Chloe Latchmore, Satriya Krisna
Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
Bizet/Peter Brook/Marius Constant/Jean-Claude Carriere La Tragédie de Carmen; Chloe Latchmore, Satriya Krisna, Alice Privett, James Corrigan, dir: John Wilkie, m.dir: Berrack Dyer; Pop-Up Opera at the Asylum Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 25 September 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Bizet's masterpiece in a stripped-down version in an atmospheric setting

At the end of last year I spent a delightful afternoon at the V&A watching Pop-Up Opera’s Hänsel und Gretel [see Ruth's review] and was looking forward to seeing how they would tackle Peter Brook’s pared-down version of Bizet’s masterpiece. 

Pop-Up Opera presented La Tragédie de Carmen at the Asylum Chapel in Peckham (25 September 2018) in a production directed by John Wilkie, music director Berrak Dyer with Chloe Latchmore, Satriya Krisna, Alice Privett and James Corrigan. 

In this four-hander, first performed in Paris in the 1980s, Brook had added some dialogue from Prosper Mérimée’s original story, and this casts a different light on the character of Carmen and the motivations of Don José. However the dialogue was not included in Pop-Up’s version, so we had a text-book seductress in a red skirt and heels, but with no context.

Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - James Corrigan - Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - James Corrigan
Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
The back story was not the only thing I missed. Marius Constant (of Twilight Zone fame) orchestrated for Brook. The piano playing of MD Berrack Dyer was inventive and atmospheric (helped by the dilapidated state of the venue and minimal lighting), but there was no eerie cello solo at the start, and no percussion – no castanets, no incessant drum at the beginning of the Habanera. Brook’s version does away with the picturesque bits in: no children’s chorus, no quintet, and the card ‘trio’ goes from the aria to a duet with Micaëla reprising her aria. I know not to expect those.

But what I missed was the text. What remains of Meilhac and Halévy’s libretto (actually quite a lot of it) is still wonderful on the ear, but none of the singers delivered in a way that was comprehensible or engaging. Vowels were approximate or wrong, consonants disappeared and the mismatch with the captions meant that we couldn’t pick the words up from a glance at the text projected at the back of the stage.

Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - Alice Privett - Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
Bizet/Peter Brook: La Tragédie de Carmen - Alice Privett
Pop-Up Opera (Photo Ugo Soffientini)
I appreciated the idea behind the production – John Wilkie uses a Spanish Civil War setting and we are very much aware of the impact of war: PTSD for the men and survival for the women. The tiny stage makes for a claustrophobic evening. My favourite part in this show was the second chorus of the Toréador Song where not only is there no crowd cheering Escamillo on, there is no orchestra either and the hero is all alone and exposed on stage.

Wilkie addresses the logistical challenges associated with ‘pop-up’ well and perhaps now the team can concentrate on telling the story for newcomers to Brook’s version – or to the art form itself. They take the show around the country to all sorts of unexplored venues between now and the end of November [see Pop-Up Opera's website for details]. Top tip for audiences: if they tell you to take an extra layer of clothing, take two or three.

Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

La Tragédie de Carmen, by Peter Brook Marius Constant and Jean-Claude Carrière. Adaptation of Georges Bizet, Meilhac & Halévy and Prosper Mérimée

Carmen – Chloe Latchmore
Don José – Satriya Krisna
Micaëla – Alice Privett
Escamillo – James Corrigan
Musical Director / Piano – Berrack Dyer
Stage Director – John Wilkie

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • A forgotten tradition: premiere recordings of two English symphonic works from John Andrews & BBC Concert Orchestra (★★★½) - CD review
  • Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony (★★★½) - CD review
  • Jiri Belohlavek & the Czech Philharmonic in Janacek (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Vital & optimistic: Halle Children's Choir in Jonathan Dove's A Brief History of Creation (★★★½) - CD review
  • Late Romantic: I chat to pianist Margaret Fingerhut  - Interview
  • Decades - songs from 1830-1840, Malcolm Martineau and friends  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Juditha resurgens: William Vann on reviving Parry's Judith - article
  • Mahler distilled: Iain Farrington and Rozana Madylus in "On Angels' Wings" (★★★½)  - concert review
  • A pastoral delight: Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in its original version from The Mozartists  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • The other Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera's revival of Isouard's Cendrillon (★★★½) - opera review
  • More than just Haydn: cultural revival at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt  - feature
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front at Herbst Gold in Eisenstadt (★★★★★) - concert review 
  • Haydn at Eisenstadt: Armida at Herbst Gold festival Schloss Esterházy (★★★★) - Opera review
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