Sultry, sexy, stupendous, and that was just the set. In reality, was there ever an opera more suited than Carmen to the unparalleled glamour of the backdrop of Sydney Harbour?
Carmen is Handa Opera’s second year of staging an opera on a temporary giant stage, floating on Sydney harbour, Last year it was La Traviata, a performance I was convinced I was born to star in, but sadly the Gods didn’t smile on that ambition - http://catrionaling.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/it-aint-over-till-fat-lady-sings-opera.html for the full sad story – surely worthy of an operatic plot of its own.
The set and performance had a lot to contend with, for how do you compete with the iconic views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge glittering away as scene stealers in the falling dusk? The answer is to put on such a flamboyant, showstopper of an evening that even Australian national treasures are relegated to backdrop status.
On a beautiful dry Autumn evening in Sydney, and note the dry caveat as it has been a couple of weeks of sudden torrential downpours, there was just enough chill in the air last week to make a coat and blanket the favoured accessories for the audience, though there was the odd touch of glitz and glamour floating about under wraps and pashminas in the venue’s tapas bars before the show.
I’m not an opera buff, though I can do a fair hum along to famous tunes, (provided they have appeared in an advert – just to clarify how low brow we are talking here) but I was completely mesmerised by Rinat Shaham as Carmen. She has the most beautiful, soaring voice and completely threw herself in to the role. As she sashayed her way across the stage she was the living, breathing embodiment of a woman governed by passion. There was nothing calm about Carmen, and she was definitely not necessarily a character you would want to be stuck in a lift with given the constant flow of drama going on. I got the giggles at one point when she suggested to her lover Don Jose, that he throw her across his horse and head for the mountains, as basically I couldn’t imagine anyone less suited to a quiet retiring life amongst the hills.
The set was dominated by giant sign blazing ‘Carmen’ in the style of the old Hollywood blockbusters whilst the enormous red outline of a bull lit up the bullring scenes. Fireworks gave an extra fizz to the night, whilst the singers arrived on stage in vintage cars and courtesy of a crane I feel sure that staging the entire performance on a floating stage must give rise to enough health and safety issues to daunt most directors without adding in the cranes and performers lowered into action in moments of high drama, but Gale Edwards, the director managed to make it all look effortlessly and breathlessly inspired.
As the production was set in Franco’s Spain this allowed full, glamorous rein on the costume front. Flamenco dancing and a fabulous piece of choreography with a female dancer, complete with troupe of men carrying her enormous billowing skirt produced wow moments to compete with the drama of the music.
The only regret at the end of the evening was that this this counts as homage rather than review in that in true operatic style, Carmen’s time is up, with the last night on Sunday I’m going to miss the regular boom of the fireworks that occurred every night just after 10 p.m. as the sky lit up in tribute to a spectacular performance.