‘Carmen’ – Handa opera on Sydney Harbour reviewed

Rinat Shaham as Carmen

For a second year, Opera Australia has presented an outdoor performance located spectacularly at the Royal Botanic Gardens on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.  Nowhere else in the world is there such a wonderful setting with Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge providing a magical backdrop, and the city lights reflecting in the waters of the harbour, flying foxes gliding silently overhead.  The location is truly stunning.

Gale Edwards’s exciting production of Bizet’s Carmen is largely successful in matching the splendour of the site.  Props swing in and out on huge cranes and the stage is often filled with energetic choreography and a blaze of colour and movement.  This is well suited to much of Carmen, though the quieter scenes are certainly not neglected.  John Rayment’s excellent lighting provides effective contrast by darkening the stage and circling it with an ominous red ring of light.  The production is notionally set in the Franco period, but most of Julie Lynch’s costumes are traditional Spanish so the updating is mostly unobtrusive.

An impressive array of singers has been assembled.  Rinat Shaham repeats the vivid performance she gave in the Opera Theatre two years ago.  Her voice is well suited to the title role and she is dramatically very convincing.  The Ukrainian Dmytro Popov is new to Sydney and provides an excellent Don José.  His voice has sufficient power for the big moments but he also has the musicality to provide a sensitive ending for the Flower Song.  Andrew Jones has all the strut and swagger needed for Escamillo and he survives a hair-raising aerial entry in the last act.  Vocally, he needs more time to develop the robustness and fullness of tone the role needs.  Nicole Carr is well suited to the restrained figure of Micaëla, and the smaller roles are all well performed.

The big drawback of outdoor opera is, of course, the amplified sound.  Here, the voices fared much better than the orchestra.  The balance strongly favoured the singers with the orchestra often being almost inaudible in the ensembles.  Perhaps this was fortunate because although the wind and brass emerged acceptably, the string sound emanating from the loudspeakers was disappointing.  The violins in particular sounded harsh and metallic.  Brian Castles-Onion kept the stage and orchestra impressively synchronised.

As a spectacle, the evening is very successful, and hopefully it may entice those who are unfamiliar with opera into the Joan Sutherland Theatre to experience a ‘real’ opera performance.

Larry Turner for SoundsLikeSydney© 

Larry Turner is a music writer who has been singing in choirs for many years, both in Sydney and London.  He is an avid attender of  opera and of concerts with an emphasis on vocal music.  He particularly enjoys music from both the great a capella period and the baroque – especially the lesser-known works of Bach and Handel.  He has written programme notes for Sydney Philharmonia, the Intervarsity Choral Festival and the Sydneian Bach Choir and is currently part of a team researching the history of Sydney Philharmonia for its forthcoming centenary.


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