Posts Tagged ‘Carmen’

Mini-review – Carmen Disruption – Almeida Theater

May 22, 2015

It’s several weeks since I saw this show but there’s still two performances left of Carmen Disruption at the Almeida, so I’m going to add my two cents (but not much more).

Carmen – the opera – is an intense emotional journey, one that, for me, ends in triumph as Carmen chooses following the dictates of her heart over a lifetime of misery with a man whom she rightfully despises (Don José). Carmen is a woman of passion – and, sadly, so is Don José, but without strength to make him someone worth respect. He wavers and wibbles, he is dishonest to his former love Micaëla, he is weak and despicable. Of course Carmen wants the toreador Escamillo. Of course weak Don José kills the person who can see him for what he is. It is all inevitable.

This feeling of inevitable doom for all involved permeates Carmen Disruption, no doubt in part because of the heavy presence of the barely breathing animated bull that dominates the stage. It’s added to by the stripped-back set and the constant insertion of some rather good music (including the delicious singing of Viktoria Vizin) – but these are the highlights of the evening rather than a side dish to the main. Two of the five characters are given interesting stories to tell – The Singer’s loss of her identity, gigolo Carmen’s arrogance and rape – but there isn’t enough in the five of them to actually create a story arc, a personal evolution, an anything. I could almost believe in their realities, but I didn’t care. It was like a collection of lesser short stories by an author early in her career – poorly formed and pointless. It relied on the gravitas of the original to give it motive energy and then totally squandered it.

I had been encouraged to see this show by an exuberant review but I lived to regret buying my ticket. I shouldn’t have spent more time thinking about where I had heard the song Hall of Mirrors than I did anything else in this play, including why the central death might have mattered at all. I escaped angrily into the night. Such a waste of time and energy. Such a waste.

(This review is for a performance that took place April 27th. It closes May 23rd.)

Review – Royal Ballet Triple Bill (Asphodel Meadows, Carmen +1) – Royal Opera House

May 16, 2010

On Saturday I did something I’d never done at the ballet before: I deliberately skipped seeing a piece. In fact, I came late so that I could skip said piece. In fact, I changed my tickets from the matinee to the evening show so that I could completely and utterly miss a work I didn’t care for. The object of my disdain? Chris Wheeldon’s “Electric Counterpoint,” which I reviewed when it was new and thought would never be revived again. My dislike of video being used with dance has only increased since then, and there was no way I was going to sit through this torture again. An hour late arrival it was.

What did manage to drag me out of my torpor? The promise of a new ballet (not that I haven’t been burned before, but you gotta support it), but by Liam Scarlett, who’d really impressed me in last year’s outing for New Works at the Linbury. The Royal Ballet had decided to give him the big hall treatment? Excellent! In addition there was a ballet version of Carmen, which though not new was new to me, and as Carmen is my favorite opera and one I thought would hold up well dramatically as a ballet, I was excited about the possibilities.

Scooching into my amphitheater seats (row M, kind of far off to the side but 11 quid was about all I could manage), I wondered what “Asphodel Meadows” would hold. We were shown three main couples, dressed in grey, brown, and rust (or so it seemed), with some five to seven corps couples in a beige so pale they looked washed out. Hmm. The movement was good, to me lacking the complexity of Balanchine but showing an ease at considering how bodies should be balanced in space and time, with some unusual arm movements and a confident use of “the pause” – moments when there was no dancing, and sometimes even no music. I was very much feeling like Scarlett was ready for this move up, though I, unfortunately, as an audience member and writer was not entirely ready for him – I’d forgotten to bring paper to write on. I don’t think I would have had much to say, though – it was good but not amazing, though I’m glad I got to see it – and I think it was worth reviving, far more so than the Wheeldon.

I think it may also be true that my ability to recall this show well was hindered by the evening’s finale, Mats Ek’s Carmen. The whole thing was so over the top that it went into the realm of the hysterically awful I refer to as “the baddicle,” right there with de Fruto’s infamous spectacle at the Sadler’s Wells’ Diaghilev show last fall. I might have been able to make some love in my heart for dancers in metallic fake-flamenco ruffles, but put them in front of a giant, polka-dotted, open-crotched panty set (with some crotch spilling out of it thanks to the lighting design), then drop the dancers on their butts to writhe with their legs spread open … I could buy the Carmen, but I found the dancing comical. Laughter kept breaking out up in the gods, and when at one point one of the nauseating ward of snifflers and coughers keeping us company blew his nose in time to a roll of castanets, I, too, couldn’t help but laugh. And after that it was all just a sad comedy of histrionic dancing (though seriously, Tamara Rojo should learn how to flip a “bata de cola” – I saw five days of flamenco in which not a single person had to use their hands to turn their skirts, and it just looked amateurish). I heard from the Tyro Theatre Critic that this ballet is very popular among some people, and that’s why they keep reviving it: for me, I leapt over the other five people to run for the staircase and the fresh outdoor air before the curtain calls started, because while I couldn’t really blame it on the dancers, I did really, really want to get away from it. The Baddicle comes but once a year, but when you’ve had a visit you always want it to end as soon as possible.

(This review is for the final performance of this set of dances, which took place Saturday, May 15th, at 7 PM. I didn’t show up until 7:55 and yet I felt I got my money’s worth out of the evening. Thank you to the Royal Ballet for making your shows affordable to people at all income levels.)

Review – Antonio Gades’ Company’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells

March 22, 2009

On Friday night I went with Miko and J to Sadler’s Wells to see the Antonio Gades’ Company’s production of what I call “the Flamenco Carmen.” What I did not realize is that, substantially, this Carmen is not based on Bizet’s Carmen, but rather the Carlos Saura film of 1983. This was set in a flamenco school … or so I was told. At any rate, a lot of the strangeness of this show for me was based on the fact that I was expecting an interpretation of Bizet … though I can certainly enjoy a production no matter where it takes the source material. It’s all about the quality of the show as its own artistic creation, not its faithfulness to the source material – otherwise we get crap like four hour movies that capture every detail of a book but are boring to watch.

So how was this show? Well … mixed. First, I was unhappy that it was done to recorded opera music. This was substantially offset by the fact that it was done to live Flamenco music, but, still, it was cheesy, and I’ve become used to having only live music with my dance performances, so I didn’t like it, and it made the crowd scenes extra weird because the crowds … well, weren’t singing. The music we did have done live, however, was quite good; five singers (including a rather elderly looking lady that I believe goes by the name “La Bronce”) and three guitarists, plus all of the percussion a group of thirty dancers could provide.

The story itself was … well, sort of Carmen, but not really. The show started in a flamenco school, where people did row after row of similar movements, which went on forever, well past the time when I thought we were going to be heading into the cigarette factory district of Seville and meeting our heroine. At the center of the first row of dancers was a rather crazy looking woman with her hair pulled tightly back and an expression as grim as if she were facing death … and, yes, this was Stella Arauzo, our Carmen. There was never any moment when the crowd presented her to the audience with the wonderful Habanera “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” (This song, my favorite, showed up in the middle of the show, during some sort of seduction scene.) Instead … well, after a while, there was some sort of fight with some of the girls and Carmen, and Carmen knifes one of them.

Er … well, there are SOME elements of Carmen, as Don Jose (Adrian Galia) appears to be a police officer or something who loses his rank for setting Carmen free … but when Carmen runs off to be with a lover, it turns out to be … her husband … whom Don Jose kills in order to win Carmen back. There are no gypsies, no fortunetelling, no smuggling, but a bull fighter does finally show up, and Don Jose kills Carmen.

My favorite bit of all during this show was during what I think of the Lillas Pastia’s inn scene, where all the dancers gathered in the center of the stage and sang and clapped, while various people got in the middle and showed their stuff, including an elderly man that reminded me of Fezziwig, and the older female singer who looked like she was going to go offstage and bake us all some cookies. The bit was seemed full of joy and spontenaeity and I enjoyed it tremendously.

However, none of this could make up for the fact that I was unable to be convinced by our Carmen. Ms. Arauzo spend the whole night looking like she was expecting to be killed, possibly a minute or two after the curtain raised (by a falling sandbag, I suppose). She didn’t display the love of life and joy (and brashness) I expect of a Carmen; she glowered and had a temper, but didn’t … live. Her dancing seemed competent and was probably technically fine, but … maybe she was having a bad night. I don’t know. I just know that she was not pleasant to watch because of the glowering expression on her face and even her dancing did not capture me. It was a shame, really. I so much preferred the Mujeres show on Monday. Still, my friend M enjoyed it (though she also found great fault with the lack of “heart” and “hardness” of Arauzo), so it wasn’t a bad evening – just not one I’d particularly recommend.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, March 20, 2009. The production’s final show was tonight, March 22nd, but it will likely continue touring elsewhere.)

Mini-review – Carmen – Royal Opera House – Art Review – Daily Life in Renaissance Italy

December 29, 2006

Art goes down better on a full stomach, I think. With that in mind, a snacky J and I hit the 4.50 all you can eat buffet at the Paper Tiger in South Kensington (between the tube station and the Victoria and Albert Museum). It was rather dank and cavy in the restaurant, but appropriate given the low rent they must have to afford their cheap prices – well, they also compensated with over priced tea and other beverages. Ten items sounded convincing enough for me to brave the depths. In exchange, I got egg fried rice and all the egg rolls I could manage – these being the best things on offer. Also available: slightly chilly sweet and sour pork, bland black bean beef, some kind of chow mein thing that was pretty good but just … lacking something, mystery chicken dish (I think it wanted to be tandoori but it just didn’t resemble any chinese food I’d ever had), Nothing Nothing soup (all it needed was a stone), unflavored yet cooked noodles, and … chicken wings. And wontons and dipping sauce. Next time, I’ll eat at the Oriental Canteen, which charges just maybe a pound more for a meal but delivers much, much better food. Oh well, live and learn – and at least this was a cheap lesson, and extraordinarily quick.

We headed to the V&A afterwards for their “Daily Life in Renaissance Italy” exhibit, which is kindly available to Oyster card holders at a two for one price. In some ways, this exhibit really did take on the stuff that doesn’t really get covered much in museums – the daily workings of a household, which is very woman-centric. So there was lots of stuff about cooking and sewing and childbirth that you wouldn’t normally see, such as “birth plates” and lots of paintings of women post-baby. I got creeped out about living a life where my contributions were basically based on biology and I had a one in five chance of dying in childbirth. Woo. But most of the stuff just seemed so inconsequential – an olive/vinegar cruet, some pins, a few beat-up pewter plates, and eight people shoulder to shoulder in front of them. Grr. The highlights of the exhibit were (for me) the nice Fra Angelico work they had and the gorgeous blue and white terracotta tondos (Della Robbia, of course) depicting the months that had adorned the ceiling of Cosimo De Medici’s study. There was also some leatherwork from a Venetian “Gold Room” – apparently all of the wood would be gilt, and the walls would be covered with gilded and painted leather, so the whole thing would just glow – a perfect effect for that lovely Venetian light. I loved that they were so popular they tried to legislate them away. Down with the authorities who try to crush beauty!

Anyway, mostly I didn’t think this was worth much of a bother, though I did like all of the paintings that were exhibited. The signs really should have been higher up and I wish there had been less people there. (One can only imagine what the Leonardo exhibit was like, since there was a line to get in after you’d bought tickets.) We finished up the outing with some tea and a scone, eaten (of course) in the Morris, Gamble and Poynter Rooms, which is tied with the Sainte Chapelle and the Asam Church in Munich as the most beautiful places I’ve every been. The MGP rooms are probably best, though, because you can sit in them and natter.

Then it was off to Covent Garden for some pre-show shopping. Ultimately, we bought <1) hot chocolate mix (half off) and 2) some 2nd flush Darjeeling from two different Whittard shops and 3) a few very cheap tools for the gig J is supposed to be working tomorrow AM. I failed at buying boots; I'll try the Clark's up the street and see if they inspire me more. (I had no luck even finding a Clark's today, which maybe meant I was in a nicer neighborhood or something. I did find a Birkentstock store, though, and they had boots, so who knows.) After a very light dinner at Paul (soup for me and quiche for J), we went to the very sold out Carmen at the Royal Opera House, tickets for which (and blocked view at that!) were his Christmas present from me.

*looks at the time* My, it’s late. I think the ROH Carmen was a great production, if a wee bit too sexed up for my taste – I just don’t think flamenco dancers should ever lift their skirts to mid-thigh, and given the period in which it was set I really found the behavior of the gypsy women impossible to swallow. But the staging was generally very good, all of the singing and music was right on target, and the costuming was fun. So what wasn’t to love? I think that this Carmen will be the one I hold in my mind through years and years of non-sexy singers with no stage presence and no ability to flirt on stage. Did Carmen cast a magical spell on Don Jose, or was he just an obsessive loser? Tonight, it seemed that sorcery was the right answer, and Carmen herself seemed a little bit more evil because of it. But at the end, when she said, “Carmen will live free!” I was right there with her, watching Don Jose grabbing her by the hair and trying to shove her in a little box like those poor Renaissance wives. You said it, girlie, I just wish that at the end you’d had your own little knife with you.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 28th, 2006. The review was migrated from my other blog.)