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Red-hot red-head: there's never a dull moment when Carmen (Esme Bronwen Smith) is around.

Red-hot red-head: there’s never a dull moment when Carmen (Esme Bronwen Smith) is around.

Carmen at St Mary’s a tour de force

On Friday 21st Barefoot Opera gave its second performance of Bizet’s opera Carmen at St Mary in the Castle. For HOT reviewer Jo Wood it was quite simply a knock-out. Photos by Chris Parker.

Barefoot Opera’s production of Carmen, sung in the original French with surtitles, is a tour de force. The company use the circular performance space in St Mary’s to great effect by performing ‘in the round’ with some of the audience seated on stage behind the cast in addition to those around the hall.

They handle this additional layer of complexity with the same professionalism demonstrated in their singing and musicianship. And yes, they perform barefoot.

The orchestral accompaniment is stripped down to piano, double bass, accordion – very French – plus the outstanding clarinettist and singer, Andrew Sparling, who dropped in and out of the opera and played his instrument from memory. And he’s a Cambridge graduate.  Talk about  multi-talented.

Carmen performed by Escamillo (Tobias Oldewald), the handsome bullfighter who steals Carmen's affections.

Escamillo (Tobias Oldewald), the handsome bullfighter who steals Carmen’s affections.

Esme Bronwen Smith is a red-hot, red-headed  Carmen. In these days of #MeToo Carmen is a very modern, Stormy Daniels of a character who is unashamedly sexual and loves whom she chooses. Girl power! She’s also a trouble-making minx and – spoiler alert? – finally gets murdered by one of her obsessive lovers.

The whole plot is gloriously politically incorrect:- thieving, horny gypsies; a handsome bullfighter; thick soldiers; domestic violence and partly set in a cigarette factory. I’d like to see the Arts Council commission that plot today.

You should see it just to experience these stereotypes which will probably be banned when the snowflake generation are running the Arts.

The highlights? Carmen’s painted toenails – medical students were famously once taught (incorrectly) that they are a giveaway for sexually transmitted diseases. Only Barefoot Opera can act with their toenails.

Carmen performed by Barefoot Opera. St Mary in the Castle, Hastings

Don Jose (Henry Ngan), the jilted lover who seeks revenge.

The French language production beautifully reminds us that l’amour (love) and la mort (death) sound just the same. It’s la petite mort between that causes all the trouble.

Henry Ngan as Don Jose is a credible soldier and opens up an achingly rich quality to his voice in the death scene, saving his best till last. The pared-back staging – just a stepladder and a platform – works very effectively and creates changing moods on a tight budget.

Jenny Miller , the director of this fabulous company, should be very satisfied. If her aim is to bring opera to the masses, this production knocks it out of the park. Here’s a thought: Glyndebourne at £230 a ticket or Barefoot at £17?  It’s no contest. I can’t stay awake when I see an overblown opera production and I barely blinked throughout this gloriously free celebration of singing.

Get yourself along to Source Park next weekend to see another incarnation of this brilliant company’s Carmen production.

Multi-talented Andrew Sparling juggles two singing roles and is the clarinettist in the band.

Multi-talented Andrew Sparling juggles two singing roles with playing the clarinet in the band.

Crazy Carmen (a shortened version) Sunday 30 September, 7pm, Source Park, White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JA. Tickets £10 from Barefoot Opera.



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Posted 17:11 Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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