• Catherine Flutsch

Ellen Kent's Carmen

★★


Review: Ellen Kent's Carmen, on tour throughout the UK until 8 May. Find booking links here.


[Disclosure: The New Theatre Oxford provided me with free tickets, a souvenir brochure and free drinks during interval for the purposes of this review.]


This season, Ellen Kent is touring three of her operatic productions throughout the UK; Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Carmen. Last night, I saw Carmen. You can read my review of Tosca here.


Depending on your age, life experience and politics, Carmen is either - the story of a young Roma woman who is trying to push against social strictures and the prejudices related to her gender and race to carve a life of freedom for herself against the odds – or – the story of a wicked, amoral, gypsy woman who uses her sexual wiles to corrupt a good and honest man into a murder. Either one of these interpretations can provide a gorgeous backdrop to Bizet’s beautiful music.

This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production.


Ellen Kent’s production is firmly in the latter interpretative camp – with Carmen – played by mezzo-soprano Irina Sproglis – as a deliciously wicked woman who corrupts good and honest Don Jose.


This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production - the set/costumes are different.


There is no doubt that Irina Sproglis is the star of the show – she has a luscious voice which suits the role very well. But who Irina Sproglis is, where she has trained and what her life is outside of her association with Ellen Kent is a mystery. I have spoken before about the lack of information about the artists in Ellen Kent’s production programmes and on her website. In Irina’s case, this is quite extreme. She is not even in the official programme. The only way I know her name is that I received an insert into the programme listing the cast that was performing the evening I went to see the show. It lists Irina in the lead role – and nothing else. Google reveals nothing of note.


This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production - the performers are different.


Like many opera lovers, I would enjoy being able to find out a little bit more about my favourite singers particularly about Irina, who looks and sounds the part – follow her on social media – and have the opportunity to hear her sing outside of an Ellen Kent production. Every opera singer I know does their best to connect and engage with fans but none of Ellen Kent’s singers do so. I wonder why?


This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production - the set/costumes are different.


Ellen Kent’s production of Bizet’s Carmen will produce no surprises - it is almost exactly the same production of Carmen that she has been doing for many years. Here is the trailer that Ellen Kent has provided on her website to illustrate this season’s Carmen – it’s from 2015.



This is not necessarily a bad thing – operas are expensive to produce and if you’re onto a winner, there’s no need to change. Or is there?


There’s a changing of the guard in audiences. New, young, media savvy opera lovers – who are socially and culturally aware are demanding more socially informed and up to date productions – with costumes and sets designed specifically for the production.


This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production - the performers are different.


Will these young audiences (or even old ones) enjoy watching the tired prejudices about women (Madonna or whore – there’s no middle ground), the Romany, the relationship between the sexes – when other opera companies are really pushing the boundaries.


This is the publicity shot for Carmen provided by Ellen Kent but it does not depict the 2022 production - the performers are different.


None of this would matter if I felt that the production was of the best quality – but it feels under rehearsed and under directed. The musicians and singers are doing their absolute best but not even the greatest artists in the world can overcome a lack of ensemble rehearsal – and it does show.


Ellen Kent has included a quote in the programmes for her productions this year – it’s from Ralph Steadman one of the production’s patrons and it’s this,


“Ellen has the common touch that reaches out to people that have never ever been to opera!”


Perhaps if you’ve never ever been to the opera, you may not notice the problems with lack of ensemble rehearsal, some of the intonation and tempo issues with some the singers, the costumes which are starting to look quite tired or that you can’t find out about the singers outside of their association with Ellen Kent.


But I have been to the opera before, and I did notice.

 

The orchestra accompanying the singers was the Orchestra of the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. These musicians are working on this tour under the most horrendous circumstances watching their home country, and in some cases their own homes, burn. At the curtain call, the singers held up the Ukrainian flag and sang the Ukrainian National Anthem accompanied by the orchestra. Here is the photo I took.


You can donate to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal here.

 

If you enjoyed this review, you may enjoy reading my review of Ellen Kent's Tosca here.

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