Bite-size Carmen is treat for opera lovers

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Concert review

Voices of English National Opera

St Helen’s and All Saint’s Church, Wykeham

Review and photo by Gilly Collinson

A 45-minute version of Bizet’s Carmen delighted concert-goers in Wykeham on Saturday evening.

The concise version of the popular opera – which normally runs for two and a half hours - was devised by bass-baritone Andrew Tinkler, who performed the piece with fellow English National Opera singers Claire Mitcher (soprano), Deborah Davison (mezzo soprano), Jonathan Stoughton (tenor) and pianist Simon Haynes.

With the help of narration from Andrew, Bizet’s story of blood-lust, obsession, revenge and murder in 19th century Seville maintained its flow and popular, well-known highlights: what audience does not know and love the Toreador song? With Andrew as Escamillo, Jonathan as Don José, Claire as Micaela and Deborah as Carmen, the passionate story of the beautiful but troubled cigarette girl was expertly performed and enthusiastically received by the audience.

Many of those attending were hard-core opera aficionados, but one cannot help thinking that such an adaptation would also be an ideal introduction for those who are unfamiliar with the art-form, or consider opera to be ‘difficult’. This proved it is not: it can be passionate, compelling and surprisingly contemporary.

The second half offered more gems, with each of the singers showcasing their individual talents. The audience enjoyed songs from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers, Puccini’s La Rondine – with extraordinary soaring vocals from soprano Claire – and Percy Bysshe Shelly’s Love’s Philosophy, set to music by Roger Quilter, charmingly interpreted by Deborah.

And for anyone who dismisses opera as dull or boring, Rossini’s Cat Duet should rid them of such prejudices: never was a Miaow more eloquent or amusing, with Claire and Deborah taking their feline confrontation down the aisle, to the delight and amusement of the audience.

There was plenty of laughter to be had: for Tom Lehrer fans – of whom there should be more – the Masochism Tango was characteristically outrageous and funny.

The professionalism was unmistakable throughout – not least from pianist Simon, who is also an ENO singer, but on this occasion demonstrated his extraordinary talent on the keyboard, underpinning the entire evening.

It is rare to see such highly skilled performers in such an intimate setting. It’s to be hoped that the Voices of the ENO return for another visit next year – and given the lengthy ovation, it’s certain to be another sell-out.