Marie-Louise James

The Cambridge University Opera Society’s production of Bizet’s Carmen, seen in West Road concert hall, was captivating from beginning to end. Before the start of the show, the simple and elegant set design already stood out, with its warm colour scheme and ominous references to the bull-fighting that was still to come. During the tightly performed orchestral overture, the communication between the musicians and conductor Oliver Cope was spot-on. Further into the opera, the balance between singers and orchestra and the neatness of the orchestral playing suffered a couple of setbacks, which were nevertheless always quickly resolved.

"The humorous moments were frequent enough in order to keep the dramatic plot balanced"

The role of Carmen was incredibly skilfully performed by Chloe Allison, and her natural acting style together with her technically supreme singing made every moment of Carmen’s presence on stage a pleasure to attend. In particular, the way in which she managed to bring across the meaning of the words she was singing, while still maintaining such a high level of technical skill, was very impressive. The famous aria ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ was a real showstopper, in which both the interaction between chorus and soloist and Chloe Allison’s theatrical performance were exquisite.

Another great musical highlight of this opera was Maximilian Lawrie as Don José. Although the French words he was singing were sometimes a bit difficult to distinguish, the musicality and ease with which he performed the demanding role of Don José was extraordinary. The final scene of the opera, in which between Don José and Carmen the drama comes to a spectacular end and love and violence become intertwined (a scene for which stage management deserves proper credit as well), was breathtakingly beautiful and defied all expectations one could possibly have.

Apart from the exceptional musical qualities of the leading roles and great overall performance by everyone on stage, the humorous moments were frequent enough in order to keep the dramatic plot balanced. The semi-amorous dialogue between Don José and Micaëla (Anna-Luise Wagner) was not only extremely beautifully sung by both parties, but also got a rolling laugh from the audience due to a well-timed reference to Don José’s mother. In that scene, as well as in the scene were the soldier Zuñiga (James Ward) is tied up by a hoard of women, the gravitas and fatality that is woven throughout the opera is balanced out, creating a rich and deep narrative experience as well as a great night of music.

In that sense, the visual side of the show was more serving the narrative and musical excellence, and the set changes were so smoothly done and blended in with the show so well that this aspect could easily go unnoticed. However, when focused upon, the tasteful and functional costumes and rapid changes of scene (never have I seen a bar emerge where there wasn’t one before quite so fast) the direction and stage management itself deserved their rightful amount of praise. Special credit should hereby be given to the dancers, who provided the instrumental bits of the opera with some action on stage and gave a visual impression to the plot.


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Overall, this production of Carmen guaranteed a great night of musical entertainment of the highest level. The exceptional leading roles were the main attraction, they brought both the music and the story with all its emotional intricacies to life. The orchestra and chorus both did an excellent job, although the communication between the two is challenging in any opera and in Carmen especially. The visual dimension of the show mainly complemented the music and the story, and the technicalities of the show were carried out smoothly. The combination of these elements made being in the audience of Carmen a truly aesthetic and emotional experience, a highlight of Lent term and definitely a night to remember.