Carmen live at Festival Theatre

In recent years it has become more and more popular for cinemas to screen live performances of major artistic events from around the world. There has been opera from the New York Met, Shakespeare from the Globe, and other major events from prestigious venues. Now some major theatres, the Festival Theatre included, are coming in on this trend, and installing screens in order to show a particular special live performance.

This week, the Festival Theatre screened what promised to be a spectacular performance of “Carmen” live from the classical amphitheatre in Taormina, Sicily. Having visited Taormina and its stunning amphitheatre, I felt this was a performance not to be missed. Unfortunately I was slightly disappointed.

The first disappointment – an obvious one really, given the time of the performance – was that it was after dark. Now the most stunning feature of the amphitheatre is its setting against the beautiful blue of the Ionian Sea, the rolling hills, and a distant view of Mt. Etna. None of this is to be seen or appreciated in a performance after dark. Those present at the performance could at least appreciate the warm night air and the twinkling distant light over the sea. We saw, and appreciated, the ancient pillars – beautiful to look at, but seeming no more than an elaborate stage setting. We missed the glories of sunset, the quality of the fading light, the sheer scale of the place.

This is not to say that the live close up performance was not thrilling. The atmosphere of a bustling market place was well captured as scampering children, on and off guard soldiers and promenading citizens thronged around the ancient pillars. Close ups for duets and arias reveal a great depth of emotion that cannot be appreciated from the back row of the upper circle in a stage performance. Carmen herself, while impeccably and beautifully sung by Elena Maximova, lacked fire, however. She seemed too wholesome. There was not enough hint of trouble about her, or edginess, or danger. When rejecting Don Jose she seemed petulant rather than fiery.

Giancarlo Monsalve on the other hand was an impressive Don Jose, conveying much with his rich voice and long eyelashes. Michael Bachtadze as Escamillo was a slightly stodgy toreador – his traje de luces and movements both lacked a certain sparkle. It was the spurned Michaela who had the most glorious moment in the opera with her poignant rendering of the aria ‘Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante’, a stunning performance by Joanna Parisi.

Carmen was performed by the Corps de Ballet, Choir and Orchestra of the Taormina Opera Festival.


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