Last week I attended the opening night of Georges Bizet's much-loved opera Carmen at the Royal Opera House. This revival of Francesca Zambello's classic production is performed by the Royal Opera with a line-up of international stars - led by Elena Maximova and Bryan Hymel when I saw it - and a huge cast including energetic, rowdy children from the ROH Youth Opera Company. The most popular of the French composer's 17 operas, Carmen was inspired by Prosper Mérimée's popular novella about exotic tales of Spanish gypsies. Set in 19th-century Seville, the opera tells a story of passion, jealousy, freedom and violence and is hugely popular the world over, having been performed more than 500 times at Covent Garden alone.
The sultry Russian mezzo Elena Maximova plays the title role, a sensual, high-spirited gypsy who dances around the stage, playfully flirts with the men and wins the heart of the anti-hero Don José. American tenor Bryan Hymel has a questionable French accent but plays the jealous, obsessive, unhinged soldier well. The Australian soprano Nicole Car plays the sweet Micaëla from Don José's home village superbly and the Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov plays the charismatic matador Escamillo with a strong, deep voice and twinkle in his eye.
Conductor Bertrand de Billy leads the lively orchestra, and the famous numbers including Carmen’s signature Habanera and Escamillo’s rousing Toreador Song went down a treat. This traditional production is dramatic, passionate and engaging (the 3 hours 15 minutes flew by) with a bustling ensemble of soldiers, peasants, gypsies, bullfighters, a horse and a donkey, clacking castanets and banging tambourines, great set and stage direction.
Carmen runs until 30 November at the Royal Opera House, Bow St, London WC2E 9DD