BWW Review: CARMEN at Hart's Mill, Port Adelaide
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 28th October 2017.
Elephant in the Room Productions, a new company in Adelaide but with highly experienced people behind it, presented a new production of George Bizet's powerful opera, Carmen, originally set in 1830s Spain, here reset in Port Adelaide in the 1920s and staged in the unusual setting of the Flour Shed A. Hart's Mill. The production was directed by Tessa Bremner OAM, and conducted by conductor and composer, Gordon Hamilton. The opera is sung in French, with short spoken passages in English to make the link to Australia, Escamillio becoming an Australian Rules footballer, although the lyrics of Escamillo's aria, Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre, still refer to a Toreador; it is not a complete rewrite of the opera.
Andrew Turner who, only days ago, was busy playing Superintendent Frank and Doctor Blind in State Opera's Die Fledermaus, is sensational as Don José in this production. Best known as a baritone, he has now extended his range and begun singing tenor roles, this being one more of them. From the gentle beginning, when he is close to his childhood sweetheart, Micaela, a girl from his village, to falling for Carmen, to his growing jealousy after being dropped by her in favour of Escamillo, through to his wild-eyed fury and loss of control at her infidelity, Turner offers a master class in character development.
Mezzo-soprano, Charlotte Campbell, plays Carmen and possesses a fine voice. She, like most of the cast, is a recent graduate from a degree and, although having trained as a singer, lacks the acting skills and experience for such a major role. Carmen is a fiery gypsy who should exude sexuality where Campbell's Carmen is very much 'the girl next door'. Carmen should burst onto the stage and command every scene with great stage presence.
Dione Baker sings the role of Micaela, a character who actually is 'the girl next door'. She has a sweet, clear voice that suits the role well
Baritone, Tristan Entwhistle, is Escamillo, the final member of this tangled romantic quartet and, now working towards a Masters in opera performance, we see the emerging acting skills required by modern opera companies. His Escamillo is brash, self-assured and not a little egotistical, as he should be.
Sheila Moffat has provided colourful costumes for the cast, who offer some very fine vocal work, but a choreographer well versed in Flamenco, and a French vocal coach, could have added a lot to the performances. It will be interesting to follow these young artists as they gain acting skills and experience over the years ahead. Hopefully, they would have learned much from Andrew Turner, leading by example.
The small chamber orchestra, led by Carolyn Lam, is, in actuality, a string quartet, plus a bass, a horn, a bassoon, a clarinet, and a flute. One change to the layout of the orchestra might be considered, moving the horn to the opposite side so that the bell faces away from the audience. At the moment, it is the dominant sound that we hear, even with a mute, and this clearly exposes any errors as well as obscuring some of the melodic lines from the quieter strings and the woodwinds, who have their backs to us, muffling their sounds.
Really, the whole group should be turned around to face the audience for the best sound and balance, but that would leave the conductor with his back to the performers due to the way this work is performed, with rows of patrons on either side of the venue and the performers using the space between, with the orchestra at one end. This could be done, though, with the use of closed circuit television or, better still, turning the orchestra ninety degrees to have them side on to the performance.