I have now attended all three of the operas that Ellen Kent is touring around the country at the moment. Without a doubt, the strongest is Carmen; Tosca is nearly as good, though I was particularly unhappy about the Cavaradossi; and I found Die Fledermaus very mixed – musically acceptable but a bit sluggish and with some very tiresome attempts at humour.
The highlight of the tour, for me, was the performance of Liza Kadelnik as a young, sexy, brash Carmen with a rich mezzo voice. Her acting was good and her singing was memorable. She can also act: the fortune telling scene was especially involving, with great support from her girlfriends Mercedes (Irina Melnic) and Frasquita (Alyona Kistenyova). When you realize that all the singes of the small company were performing just about every night in such very different operas and roles in terms of both the styles and the music, you have to be impressed at how well they pulled this off.
I thought also that Vitali Liskovetskyi was a good Don Jose who went from reasonable self-confidence to tortured obsession quite convincingly and sang really well. The final confrontation with Carmen, her contempt mixed with fear, her refusal to compromise and the way he exploded into murdering her made for a powerful ending. Indeed, the entire cast seemed committed to their parts, their characterizations and their music.
The mono-set that had been used throughout the week with tweaks to suggest the different locations, a set which suggested an arena, was suitable for this production and works well enough in all three operas. The conducting of Nicolas Dohotaru was idiomatic and very considerate of the singers. It was a good evening in the theatre.
Yes, this is a low budget, low rent touring company handled in an old fashioned (or, more positively, traditional?) style. But this Carmen proves that when you get an evening where everything gels, it works despite any quibbles. I think someone seeing this opera for the first time in this production would get a good idea of what the work was about. And the spectacle was certainly enhanced by the donkey in a couple of the scenes and the Lipizanner-style routine of an exceptionally beautiful horse and attractively hunky rider in the final scene. It was not the greatest Carmen ever, perhaps; but it certainly was good theatre and a completely adequate playing through of the opera itself.