Review- Carmen- Musica Viva





By Peter Gordon.


One can be pretty safe recommending George Bizet’s Carmen: it may be“Opera”, but it is also popular musical theatre, with tunes you can hum and melodies that can get stuck in your head. Just about everybody knows some music from it, whether the so-called “Toreador Song” (“Dum-dee-da-dum-dum, dum-dee-da-dee-dum”), or Carmen’s “Habanera” (“Dum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum-dum”).

Musica Viva’s “Carmen” is set in a sepia-toned Seville leavened by colourful gipsy costumes. Don José has left his village to join the army, performing mundane guard duties in the town square which fronts onto a
cigarette factory. The plant’s female workers are a magnet for the local men, who gather round at break to wait. Mostly, they wait for Carmen. The women emerge, scandalously smoking. It is here that Carmen sings her famous “Habanera”, which goes, more or less, “I don’t love you, but if I did, boys, you’d better take cover.” Don José tries his best to ignore her, so she tosses him a flower, laughing.

Micaëla, a girl from home, visits Don José with news of — and a kiss from— his mother. José hides the flower. Carmen, however, is perpetually causing trouble: this time it’s a fight on the factory floor. She’s
arrested, but all it takes is a charming song, and Don José lets her escape for which he is busted down to private and imprisoned.

Don José ends up deserting both the army and Micaëla and to follow Carmen into a life of contraband smuggling. Their relationship sours, Carmen flirts with a celebrity bullfighter, but he won’t leave. Micaëla can drag him away only with news that his mother is dying and wishes to forgive him before she goes. “The chains that bind us,” says José to Carmen as he leaves to descend from the smugglers’ camp in the mountains, “bind us unto death”, a statement that comes fatally true in the final Act outside the
bullring in Seville.

With long raven tresses, large gold hoop earrings and a red flower tucked behind her ear, Carla López-Speziale was an opening-night Carmen straight out of central casting. She is a dab hand at the castanets, and done up in her Act IV mantilla; she might have stepped out of a painting. Innocently insouciant, if such a thing is possible, López-Speziale’s Carmen is modern, very 21st-century. If this weren’t 19th-century Seville, this Carmen would be a YouTube or Instagram star. And did I say she can sing?
There’s that too: hers is a clear, lyrical mezzo-soprano.

López-Speziale was half of a Mexican duo: her Don José was a compatriot, Mexican tenor Luis Chapa, who earned his Hong Kong spurs in last year’s “Il Trovatore” when he ended singing all four performances in just three days. Chapa’s Don José falls for Carmen hard. The chemistry between the two singers was palpable. Chapa’s portrayal is physical and his singing robust; his last act switch from supplicant to the violent murderer was believable, the stabbing both convincing and chilling.

I have always had a soft spot for Micaëla. Flowers or no flowers, José really should have taken his mother’s advice and married Micaëla instead of running after Carmen. It’s conceivable that Bizet thought so as well,
for he arguably gives Micaëla the best music. Hong Kong soprano Louise Kwong did the role proudly. She shone. Her high notes are crisp, and she can invoke a huskiness in lower passages that give her Micaëla strength and depth. A country girl she may be, but she’s no pushover. Hear Kwong; you’ll remember her.

A brash and impulsive toreador in the person of Ricardo Rivera, the brisk vibrant direction from conductor Lio Kuokman in the pit, eye-catching costumes and great ensembles combined for an evening that earned everyone several well-deserved curtain calls which would have gone on longer had the cast not waved goodbye.


This production has now closed. For more information, click here. 

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