Photos by Ruth Medjber
Produced by Irish National Opera
07 – 12 March 2022
Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” is and has been a favourite of the operatic canon for many years and there are few who do not recognise any of the arias from its tale of doomed love in Seville, Spain between the naïve soldier Don José and his femme fatale, the eponymous gypsy Carmen. It was not so when first performed by the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. Conservative opera-goers in Paris were scandalised by the first serious opera to be concerned mainly with people of ‘ordinary’ status – poor, immoral and inclined to petty crime. After its opening night, it often ran to half-empty houses until Georges Bizet died suddenly on the day after the opera’s 33rd performance. He was only 36 years old. His sudden death resulted in full houses for the remainder of the run and the same critics who had written so scathingly of it after the opening night now lauded it. He was buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, (later to be joined by Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison amongst many others). The great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky attended one of the later performances and hailed it as a masterpiece. Bizet had adapted the story (with the libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy) from the 1845 novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée, a French writer, archaeologist and historian who was Inspector-General of Historical Monuments of France, and in that role oversaw the renovations of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in 1842/3, restoring the facade statues which had been removed during the French Revolution and later installing the 1859 spire which sadly was destroyed in the fire of 2019. Carmen was first performed in Ireland at Dublin’s Theatre Royal on the 9th September 1878 and afterwards in Cork.
But enough of its history. What of this production? Firstly, this is a long-delayed production of Carmen that was cancelled in March 2020 due to Covid. As such, there was a great sense of anticipation in the auditorium from an audience long starved of such musical delights. This is a co-production between Irish National Opera, Opera Philadelphia and Seattle Opera, sung in French with English surtitles and running for three more performances on the 9th, 11th and 13th of March at the Bord Gáis Theatre, Dublin. As an opera, it has been set in many different time periods over the years and this particular temporal setting was the 1950’s with costumes appropriate to the period including swing & pencil/wriggle dresses for the women and jeans/leather jackets for the men. The set was large, complex and colourful, and I particularly liked the factory setting in Act 3 which had a magnificent trompe l’oeil run of factory windows shrinking into the distance in the nighttime light. Distant palm trees in the background throughout reminded us of the sultry Spanish setting.
The title role of Carmen was played by our own mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy who has been a regular guest at the world’s major opera houses and concert halls performing a wide variety of repertoire. The role of Carmen the seductress requires more than an excellent voice and she rose to the challenge, teasing the gathered soldiers, ensnaring Don José, fending off Lieutenant Zuniga, attracting Escamillo the bullfighter before finally trying to extricate herself from Don José’s clutches. She performed the role with panache, starting with her Habanera: L’amour est un oiseau rebelle in Act 1, continuing in a wonderful signature red pencil dress and stilettoes in the Act 2. Her premonition of her death in Mêlons! – Coupons! in Act 3 was haunting and the drama and violence of the final scene in Act 4 was electrifying.
The role of Don José was played by the tenor Dinyar Vania who came across as a man guilt-ridden by many women, including his mother, his erstwhile girlfriend Micaëla as well as the spell of Carmen. Playing a soldier probably more skilled at violence than apparently the wooing of women, the scope of his voice nevertheless came into his own in the beautiful aria La fleur que tu m’avais jetée in Act 2. However, the passion of both leads was violently ignited in the C’est toi! – C’est moi! final aria in Act 4 where both Paula Murrihy and Dinyar Vania excelled themselves at the finish.
Escamillo the bullfighter was played by a suitably swaggering Milan Siljanov whose Toreador Song in Act 2 left nothing to be desired. Micaëla was played by our own Celine Byrne whose beautiful soprano voice soared exquisitely in the magnificent aria C‘est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire in Act 3. Rachel Croash and Niamh O’Sullivan were delightful as Frasquita and Mercedes respectively, their voices matched beautifully and they brought a note of humour in Act 3 with the results of their card fortune tellings.
Seán Boylan played a teasing corporal Morales, Alan Ewing was a delightfully menacing Lieutenant Zuniga and the smugglers Dancaire and Remendado were deftly played by Brendan Collins and Eamonn Mulhall who also brought moments of humour to the action.
The Irish National Opera Chorus were in excellent fettle, their combined voices richly filling the auditorium and the Children’s Chorus were delightful in acts 1 and 4. Finally, the Irish National Opera Orchestra under its conductor Kenneth Montgomery performed beautifully, providing a full, rich and rounded sound to the score that is so loved by all.
Overall, this was a welcome return to live opera in Dublin. Directed originally by Paul Curran in 2020, the revival director was his assistant Sarah Baxter. Putting on a production of this scale in Dublin is no mean feat, and the appreciative audience gave a standing ovation to the performers at its end. See it if you can.
Carmen – Paula Murrihy
Don José – Dinyar Vania
Micaëla – Celine Byrne
Escamillo – Milan Siljanov
Zuniga – Alan Ewing
Moralès – Seán Boylan
Frasquita – Rachel Croash
Mercédès – Niamh O’Sullivan
Dancaïre – Brendan Collins
Remendado – Eamonn Mulhall
Conductor – Kenneth Montgomery
Director – Paul Curran
Set & Costume Designer – Gary McCann
Lighting Designer – Paul Hackenmueller
Choreographer/Movement Director – Muirne Bloomer
Chorus Director – Elaine Kelly
Revival Director – Sarah Baxter
Assistant Director – Davey Kelleher
Répétiteur – Richard McGrath
Studio Conductor – Molly de Búrca
Irish National Opera Chorus
Irish National Opera Orchestra