Following the trail of high passion that Carmen (Anna Keenan) leaves behind her as she weaves her way through civil war-torn Spain, Edinburgh Studio Opera’s latest is a thoroughly solid production of Georges Bizet’s classic foot-stamping libretto. “Solid” might not seem a particularly generous description for a work of this calibre, but solidity and boldness are two things Carmen really demands and, under the clearly confident direction of Brock Roberts, the cast of the show delivers in a suitably big way.
As you would expect, dialogue plays second fiddle to music here, so it’s appropriate that the score is the one faultless element of the performance. The orchestra, despite its prominent position extending out into the audience like the stage’s balletically curved arm, melts away in the best sense as the production begins. The score is so capably played, and so effortlessly fills the vaulted space of the venue, that the brief moments when it gives way to spoken dialogue almost feel like intrusions on what you have come to consider the natural background music that exists in this alternate world.
Another impressive aspect of Carmen is the talent of the ensemble cast, and certain key members in particular. Keenan is a worthy star (and the subject of much praise in the women’s cloakroom during the interval) with her consistently powerful and sultry voice sending a perceptible thrill through the audience with every appearance. In fact, there isn’t a substantially weak link in the main cast, though outstanding performances from Keenan, Jonathan Forbes Kennedy as Escamillo, and Monica Toll as Micaёla are the most memorable.
If there‘s a weak point in the production, it’s probably the set and staging itself. The constraints of the room mean that even just a few rows back visibility is quite significantly impeded. Also, the rather crudely painted arches that make up the backdrop suffer somewhat from being placed alongside the extremely impressive arches in the Assembly Roxy itself, and it would perhaps have been more visually striking to do away with the backdrop altogether and make more of the architectural features to hand.
This is splitting hairs though, because this is a worthy and enjoyable show for long-standing lovers of Carmen and opera novices alike, being a smaller and less intimidating set-up than the traditional opera hall. Within the context of the story, the most famous arias (Habanera, Toreador Song) manage to gain more potency than when they stand alone and will likely have you flamenco-ing all the way home.