Carmen Review

Festival Theatre, Malvern – 14h April 2024

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Ellen Kent Opera Productions once again return to Malvern, this time with Bizet’s masterpiece Carmen performed by the Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv.

The story concerns Don José falling for the obvious (though morally dubious) charms of Carmen, abandoning his former life (soldiering, a sweetheart and his elderly mother) and becoming jealous of the attention she garners wherever she goes which (being an opera) does not end well.

The orchestra, masterfully conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, gave us a rousing Overture – a greatest hits of opera all on its own! The music was crisp, lush, suitably exotic and (like a flamenco dancer) perfectly balanced. Everything needed to transport you to the sensuous delights of Seville; the effect completed by an impressive plaza set and a chorus resplendent in their enchanting costumes – a feast for all the senses!

Davit Sumbadze gave us heroic romanticism in the lead male role of Don José. I particularly enjoyed his duets with our female leads, both of whom he had a genuine connection with. The complete performance.

Carmen (played by Natalia Matvieieva), enters with one of the most famous and popular arias ever, the “Habanera”. Her sultry, sensuous rendition set the tone for a flawless depiction of this seductive temptress. She absolutely nailed the character’s Iberian heat and joie de vivre and (like many on stage and off) I totally fell in love with her Carmen.

We were graced once more with the presence on stage of the incomparable Elena Dee (as Micaela). I saw her recently as Madamma Butterfly and she was perfect – she was again tonight. Opera is, of course, complete musical theatre and Dee has it all with a mellifluous tone to caress your ears, coupled with the ability to convey every ounce of raw emotion directly into ones heart.

The acting throughout was of the highest order – especially from Sumbadze, Matvieieva and Dee in their respective final scenes together. But the chorus were also doing some fine acting in the background which added to the atmosphere and enjoyment – indeed, much of the time I found myself watching them as much as the principals. A highlight for me was the wonderful gypsy revelry during the festive scene in act 2. I’ve said it before; there’s something about the twirling of hair, skirt and hands whilst castanets (or tambourines) are playing that makes the senses reel. Ah, España! Escamillo (played by Iurie Gisca) gave us a believable love interest/rival and his “Toreador Song” was suitably arrogant. His singing was rich and sonorous but when that chorus joined in, it was stunning!

The companions of Carmen (Anastasiia Blokha and Marharyta Bochachova) deserve special mention too for their exceptional performances i.e. when giving the pivotal “cards scene” a commendable, joyful vibrancy.

I hope our applause and cheers at the end continue to convey to all how much we still support Ukraine at this dreadful time. What a tragedy that their suffering continues. May we soon be waving their flag in a clear blue peaceful sky.

Another triumphant night to thrill the senses, transport you to a better place (Spain) and make you feel alive once more. I cannot see how tonight could have been improved upon – it was sheer perfection and an unalloyed pleasure from start to finish. Bravissimo.