Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carmen, National Concert Hall

The people’s Opera, Carmen is a sassy tale of envy and passion.  Lane productions produced a 3 night show in the National Concert Hall (NCH) last week.  I forked out €36 for a balcony seat and put on my Tuesday best.

From the red balcony, on the left hand side, there was a yawning view of the stage, much less dressed than the Amphitheatre (Ellen Kent) rig I was used to.  What it lacked in theatrical attention it made up with the promise of ‘class’.  Or so I thought.  Markings on an enormous, knee-height dais intimated the changing of props, and it took up two thirds of the stage.  Black drapes, peppered with faerie lights hung like stars on the wings, while directly to the rear there was a false wooden arch and inky horizons sketched on canvas.

I sat next to a family of Dubs.  The guy beside me was a late adolescent in a  Liverpool jersey wearing wrist supports like the ones they use in my boxing gym.  He snuffled heavy phlegm and barked in deepest Dublinese.

‘Is that a bleedin’ clarinet?’


Something that’s lost in the stalls (the main seating area) is the humanity of the orchestral tuning before the show.  From the balcony, the usual cacophony translates into purpose, like tuning a radio, reminding me of the people behind the music.  Normally I’d strain to pick out individual instruments, but when looking down form the lofty balcony, I spied each performer, their gentle movements, their concentration, and I could match each to the sounds of their instruments much more easily.  It reminded me that I am not going to be listening to my iPod, or watching the cinema.  This would be a performance.

According to wiki answers, Carmen is the fourth most performed Opera in North America.  It’s one of those Operas that appeals to everyone.  Why?  Because everyone with a TV or a radio knows Carmen.  I’d guess that half the themes have been used in advertising for some product or another.  Furthermore, Carmen is brazen.  From the opening scene, where soldiers perve over Micaela like bored construction workers, to the bar-room flamenco, to the quasi-rape at Carmen’s murder, this is the blockbuster of the classical scene.

It’s a big production, with big personality, so I was surprised at Lane’s success.  Earlier in the year they’d put on a timid La Boheme, and I’d figured the same calibre would represent.  Thankfully, there were a few improvements.

Imelda Drumm (Carmen) was sexy, throaty and vigorous.  From the onset you knew she’d need an alpha co-star.  Oops.  Unfortunately, Michael Wade Lee (Don José), who gave a technical recital, didn’t have the oomph to match.  Perhaps, however, he was playing to character, as Don José is a bit of a wind-bag chump (in which case, bravo!).  As usual, it seems, my favourites were in support.  Micaela (Claudia Boyle) was delicious, powerful and sweet - my favourite.  Toby Stafford Allen played a jaunty, winsome rogue (Escamillo, the bull-fighter who steals Carmen’s heart).  Odd casting, as we expect a monster when we hear Escamillo’s fanfare, and yet, despite his smaller size, Stafford Allen had machismo to match Drumm’s Carmen, and there was chemistry to taste.

After that, we were spoilt by the gypsy girls Mercédes and Frasquita, (Deirdre Masterson and Claire Kavanagh), and the soldiering perverts Zuniga and Morales (John Molloy and Eugene Armstrong).  The support was wonderful.  Everyone stayed in character, it wasn’t forced, and there was very rarely anyone looking for orchestral cues.  The stage spun with energy, from the whisking ballet to the bare legged table dances, from the snoozing gypsy guards to the trumpeting ceremonials, from the randy soldiers to the randier virginal cat-fight.  Awesome show.  This time, Vivian Coates did a pretty good job.  My faith in Lane is restored (though a few surtitles would have been handy).

‘All the singin’ was good an’ all,’ my neighbour acknowledged sagely, ‘’cept I don’ know wha’ de Fuck is goin’ on.’

DIARIT: 9/10


  1. Man, I really must partake of some of the culture offered in this here city some time soon. That sounded absolutely brilliant--especially your neighbour there.

  2. That was a good read. You could be a bleedin' reviewer. What's with you and finding cultured scumbags? :)