La Tragedie de Carmen, Pop Up Opera @ The Asylum, Peckham

Written by Georges Bizet
Arranged and Adapted by Peter Brook, Marius Constant and Jean-Claude Carriere
Stage Direction by John Wilkie
Musical Direction by Berrak Dyer
20th September – 23 October 2018

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Carmen by Pop Up Opera is a streamlined and impressive show. Running at one hour twenty, boasting a cast of only four singers and a pianist, this adaptation has trimmed the fat of Bizet’s tragedy, to its credit.

Each singer is classically trained and fills the old chapel with clear, strong and occasionally heart wrenching voices. It is exceptional to experience a performance of such vocal strength in a room so perfectly designed for carrying song – and the first act was lit by the sunset through stained glass windows.

The space isn’t always to their benefit though – sight lines for those behind the second row were impaired and fight choreography was hampered by the small, raised stage, coming across as awkward whenever there were more than two bodies on it. The staging was assisted by back projections providing historical context and silhouetted dumbshows, which was clever if a little overused.

The updating of the setting to the Spanish Civil War, along with the stripping of the libretto, really focuses of the emotional devastation of each character – they are all so clearly seeking connection in a cruel world.

Despite the fact that opera isn’t really about the acting, it was clear that the soldiers, tenor Satriya Krisna and baritone James Corrigan, were stronger actors than their female colleagues, conveying rage, despair and love more convincingly than Carmen (Chloe Latchmore, mezzo soprano) and Micaela (Alice Privett, soprano) – though again, each vocal performance was impeccable. The pianist imbued the simplified arrangement with a great deal of emotion – together with the cast carrying the weight of the huge, famous score.

This is a beautiful production of Bizet’s famous opera, appropriate for opera aficionados and first timers alike.

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