The trouble is that Bieito is a director whose priority always seems to do something radical and to shock if possible, even if the opera itself does not justify it. I suppose there must have been some political point he was making by moving the action from 18th century Seville to some unspecified outpost of Franco’s Spain in the 1970s, but I still cannot see what it was. The move to a modern era provided an excuse for some vulgarity and for driving some cars onto the stage, but such things seemed to detract from the story rather than add to it. And I was mystified by the sight of an armed soldier dressed only in his underpants running round and round the stage at the start of the opera, and bemused by the second half beginning in subdued lighting with a naked male exercising in time with the music.
On the positive side, Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyté played the title role in delightfully seductive style, while the American tenor Sean Panikkar was excellent as her lover and eventual killer Don Jose. This is a difficult part to play convincingly as he is such a hapless character, but Panikkar acted the role very intelligently and sang beautifully.
Of the other main roles, I thought British baritone Ashley Riches’ portrayal of the bullfighter Escamillo rather lacked the natural swagger and dominance the role demands, while British soprano Nardus Williams was a curious choice to play Micaëla, the girl from Don Jose’s home town who comes to find him and try to bring him home. Williams has a strong, emotive, vibrato-rich voice which could be impressive as a Puccini heroine, but Micaëla is a simple country girl and such a powerful voice does not fit.
Valentina Peleggi conducted the orchestra in energetic and sensitive style, balancing the instrumentalists with the singers perfectly and bringing out the best in Bizet’s glorious music.
My overall impression was that this was a three-star performance of a one-and-a-half-star production of a four-and-a-half-star opera. That averages out at three stars.
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