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CARMEN ELECTRIC - Dumfries & Galloway Festival

Billed as the flagship event of the 34th annual Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, there were huge expectations for Opera A La Carte’s production of Carmen. Come the night, expectations were not only met, but exceeded, with the show described in superlatives by the 350-strong audience – and a call for “opera encore” at Easterbrook Hall.

Leaving behind the golden glow of a warm, late-May evening outside, we entered the low-lit auditorium for a special performance of Carmen. Cigarette girls flirted their way around the hall; their smuggler comrades offered bonbons, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Opera virgins (myself included) joined seasoned opera-goers for an evening of passion, obsession, jealousy and murder… Carmen is the sexiest of all operas and this production was set in the round for a truly intimate performance. While the audience surrounded the performers on three sides, brilliant lighting, colour and stage effects brought an extra dimension; creating huge shadows which played out the action against Easterbrook’s high walls.

It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand all of the words being sung; I was captivated from the start; lost in the unfolding drama, mesmerized by the music and performers, and left speechless at the tragic end. Mezzo soprano Kate Symonds-Joy smouldered as the gypsy seductress Carmen; sultry and sensual and trouble with a capital T. Leonel Pinheiro and Håkan Vramsmo both gave great performances as her love interests: soldier Don José and toreador Escamillo respectively, ably supported by the rest of the cast who gave rousing performances.

Congratulations to director Nicholas Heath – and to the organisers of Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival for bringing Carmen to Dumfries. It was an excellent opening show for the festival and Easterbrook Hall – a change to the traditional opening night venue of the Theatre Royal – proved the perfect setting. This was my first opera – but it certainly won’t be my last. Opera encore …

Andrea Thompson, Dumfries & Galloway Life, July 2013


THE MAGIC FLUTE - 2006 Salisbury International Festival

"Having spent most of last summer in hospital, to find Mozart's jolly musical fairy story, The Magic Flute, transferred from its sombre Masonic hall to a military hospital in India was, to say the least, a sobering experience.

Opera a la Carte were staging Nicholas Heath's imaginative production at the Salisbury Playhouse for the city's annual International Arts Festival. Yet while there are moments when the mischief appears a little strained, I have to confess that the joke works rather well.

Tamino, a soldier, is brought into hospital in a delirium having suffered a snakebite! From the depths of his coma, and ably sung by the extremely fit tenor Paul Badley, he pleads for help, whereupon - surprise, surprise - three neatly uniformed nurses spring into the ward to comfort him. Barely have they departed with the customary reluctance, than Papageno, still evidently a birdman appears at his window to claim the credit for his survival. Smartly exploiting their medical setting, the three nurses, Angela Kazimierczuk, Siobhain Gibson and Frances Jellard, return to punish Papageno with an injection into his mouth, which quite achieves Mozart's original intention. The trio sing delightfully throughout the performance, not least when they double as the three genii, usually sung by boy trebles.

Inevitably, the Queen of the Night appears as Matron, though in the remarkably trim form of the excellent young coloratura Rosalind Waters who, it is evident, is not singing this role for the first time. I have heard more than one experienced soloist struggle with the difficult runs in a way Miss Waters does not! And already, we have been delighted by a resonant "O loveliness beyond compare" from Paul Badley and an excellent rendering of Papageno's entrance from the baritone Jochem Van Ast.

Further excellence is provided by the splendid bass Martin Robson whose accomplished performance of both Sarastro's solos were warmly received by the enthusiastic audience. The excellent company of soloists is completed by Michelle Sherdan (Pamina) and Emma Silversides (Papagena). Musical direction is by Susie Allan, Accompanist of the Year and Gerald Moore prizewinner, who leads the accompaniment from the piano, aided by a woodwind quartet of flute, clarinets and bassoon. Costumes are by Catherine Hoare while the unacknowledged settings, including bed and screens, probably owe much to the local Community Health Service. There have been many eccentric productions of great operas, some of them in our major houses in recent times, which have not come remotely near to the charm of this new look by A La Carte. For anyone fortunate enough to find it billed at their theatre, it should be a must!"

The British Theatre Guide by Kevin Catchpole