Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

If, like me, you are not a regular opera goer you must doubtless know the music of Bizet’s Carmen.  Indeed, I was surprised that I knew most of the score – although perhaps I have never before heard it in its correct sequence!

This production by OperaUpClose is a new English version of, possibly, the most frequently performed classical opera.   Being in English it immediately dismisses the would be opera goes excuse of “I would love to go if only I could understand the words”!

Despite being over 140 years old the tale is timeless.  For it is a tale of love, jealousy, anger and tragedy – but not a “love story” as director Robin Norton-Hale is at pains to point out.    The sultry Carmen sits at the centre of a love and lust triangle between a Jose and Escamillo in a story that does not end well for her.

As befits the leading role it was Lilly Papaioannou who shone as Carmen – playing her character to perfection, the carefree sultry vamp who could have anything she wanted as the story began, transformed into a self-doubting wreck as the tale unfolded.

I found it difficult to warm to José, not because of his portrayal by Michael Bracegirdle, but because you instinctively get the feeling that this character is a wrong ‘un and ultimately no good for our heroine.

James Harrison as Escamillio played the aloof action hero to perfection – just as you might imagine a toreador would behave.  Yet you wanted to scream at him: Look! Look what is going on around you!

To highlight the performance of the three main characters is, I feel, a little unfair on the other performers, but to list each on their merits becomes a mere list – suffice to say there are no bad performances in this piece.

Being unaccustomed to opera it took a while for my untrained ear to acclimatise to what I was listening to.  Rather like listening to a heavily accented piece of dialogue, you had to concentrate to get the full meaning.  This however only served to intensify the experience.

Throughout the story was held together by the four piece orchestra of piano, cello, flute and violin.  They sat demurely to the right of stage producing a note perfect performance.

Karen Simpson and her team at the Theatre Royal are to be commended for the variety of entertainment they bring to this most beautiful of theatres.   Pick up a brochure and have a browse or click here and see for yourself.  You will need to be quick to catch this opera as it is only in Bury for a mere two performances,