Bizet's Carmen
(50th Anniversary Production)
10th - 14th June 2003

Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Sally Langford's 50th anniversary production for Kentish Opera certainly captures all the sultry external aspects of the oppressive heat of the environment, which leads Carmen through her tempestuous affairs and final downfall.

The timbers providing the excellent framework set seem almost to glow with the heat, thanks to Enid Strutt's design and some bold painting. Carol Stevenson's costumes are also excellent, from the colourful but well worn village outfits to a mixed bag of dragoons, thankfully not all looking like chocolate box solders.

The cigarette girls too look what they are - impoverished women trying to scrape a living in the local factory. The march of the assorted bullfighters is a glittering fashion parade, rightly providing the only hint of razzle dazzle.

Everything about the design, costume and lighting of the show suggests spaghetti western rather than the shallow, primary colourlul just-made peasant look one often finds in inferior productions. The characterisations, acting and purpose of individuals within the chorus also add to the rich texture.

My quibble is that I didn't find this coarse, realistic approach reflected in some of the acting or performance style of the scenes. Accessibly, the opera is sung in English, but those rounded Anglo-Saxon vowels somehow seem incongruous in the setting.

The occasional fierce kiss hints at passion, but it isn't really followed through. Carmen's death scene is the best example, in which Don Jose shimmies adroitly around some furniture in pursuit of the·lady, and despatches her with a quick tug of a rope, when the music provides scope for a much more chilling confrontation.

Musically, the production is superb. The professional principals alternate, but on the first night Gaynor Keeble sang Carmen with ruby rich sultry tone, and Dewi Wyn brought a crystal tenor to bear on Don Jose.

I especially enjoyed his duet on Memories of Happy Days with Paula O'Sullivan's sad Micaela; this was one piece unaffected by the lack of raw passion between other characters. One soprano to watch out for is Justine Davies (Frasquita) who has one of voices that makes the hairs on the back of your neck tingle - wonderful.


Keith Lancing
(Croydon Advertiser)

Meddle Power

The Kentish Opera marked its Golden Jubilee year with a production of the popular opera Carmen last week.

The production at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley was the fifth time the group has performed Bizet's much-loved tale about the feisty and passionate Carmen and it was easy to see why it was chosen for such a prominent year.

The tragic tale of the promiscuous heroine who yearns for freedom is an accessible yet intense love story.

Opera is often criticised for being elitist, but thankfully the Kentish Opera make it accessible to all through their production while still retaining all the required passion and professionalism expected.

The driving force behind Kentish Opera's many big successes in recent years has been the talent. enthusiasm and creativity of the company's artistic director, Sally Langford.

Ms Langford now has a production team around her than even some professional opera companies might envy.

It has to be said, that last week's performance of Bizet's work was full of surprises. The company had decided to set the action in Mexico rather than in Spain and gypsy smugglers had been moved from their mountain haven to an area close to an old mineshaft.

Several of the sequences had been reshaped to provide subtle differences in dramatic impact, while Carmen was strangled by her former lover Don Jose rather than stabbed to death.

The choice of location was immaterial but it is hard to find a valid reason for the switch to Mexico.

Gaynor Keeble and Paullne Birchall who shared the title role over the week both gave classic performances and generated sensuality with facial expressions ranging from utter scorn to an impish 'come and get me' look.

With bustling crowd scenes, clever sets and good work by the Bromley Boy Singers, the audience loved the performance.


Roy Atterbury and Emma Durdle
(Kentish Times)

Lively Carmen

13th June 2003. Churchill Theatre, Bromley. (Kentish Opera), Director, Sally Langford. Musical Director, Mark FitzGerald.

Kentish Opera gave a cracking performance of this popular opera in the acoustically greedy but comfortable red plush of this auditorium. The proscenium curtain above, too, means the singers have to keep well forward to maintain equal vocal projection.

I could write pages about this lively production by Sally Langford and her superb team. However I am constrained to limit the credits, but any omissions are entirely invidious. The cast, both backstage and front, was outstanding; costumes in keeping with the contemporary Andalucian gypsy and military style, and set cunningly devised to satisfy all Acts with a strong tall derrick as centrepiece in Act Three which was, perhaps, a trifle overpowering, belittling the doomful card playing and unusually replacing the rocky mountains for the smugglers entry and its catchy air.

The excellent orchestra (leader Philip Winter) was conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald who (do I cavil?) tended to treat the sentimental arias and that sexy flute introduction to Act Three some-what stolidly and less relaxed than I would have liked. A little more breathing space please sir, but otherwise lovely lines, contrasting colours and never overpowering.

The factory girls were uncharacteristically very subdued at the end of their morning shift in Act One, but soon got worked up as Carmen (Pauline Burchell) began the affray. And what a Carmenl This warm-voiced dramatic Mezzo was the epitome of the gay, sensuous gypsy we have come to expect as she tempted Don Jose (David Newman) beyond his endurance. He was totally convincing as the cast-off lover, with vocal expertise that never faltered. No doubt for political reasons DJ was not able to bring himself to knifing his scomful lady but decided garotting would the more acceptable to herl

Escamillo (Paul Napier Burrows) was the man who got in the way and not surprising as this full, rich voiced toreador with his fearless cavortings captured the wild gypsy girl.

Micaela (Yvonne Patrick) must surely have been the ideal choice for those two big moments, enchanting as the disappointed go-between from DJ's off-stage match-making mother. A rewarding singer whose heartfelt passion and clear lines moved us to acknowledge the unfairness of love.

The chorus was excellent and full-voiced. Then there were those splendid Bromley Boy Singers (Director-Richard Apsley) who sang out and marched spiritedly and joyfully with soldiers, gypsies and locals alike.

Gordon Bull - Words and Music, September/October 2003