Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
The new production of Carmen presented by Opera Hong Kong as part of Le French May scored strongly with world-class performances, even if it disappointed in other areas.
Director Philippe Arlaud has some good ideas, notably showing that Jose has a dark, violent side to him from early on. His use of the bullfight as a metaphor was effective but went wrong at the end when the climactic moment of Carmen's death at Jose's hands was undermined by the abrupt appearance of the toreador Escamillo in the background in an effect more ludicrous than dramatic.
The treatment of Carmen's friends Frasquita and Mercedes as comic relief was ill-judged and, worst of all, the dancing in the tavern sequence was cringe-makingly inept.
Arlaud's big, clumsy sets made the stage look restricted and Andrea Uhmann's costumes were uninspired. Conductor Benjamin Pionnier's pacing dragged, especially in act three and the Shanghai Opera House Orchestra's sound was too light for Bizet's full-blooded score.
Happily the weak points were outweighed by an extraordinary trio of principal performances. Rinat Shaham's magnificent interpretation of the title role showed why she has been hailed as one of the leading Carmens of her generation.
A true mezzo, her dark-toned singing is superb and her acting mesmerising. Carmen is the ultimate anti-heroine and Shaham makes no attempt to soften her or justify her actions: capricious, cruel and passionate, this is truly a woman who cares only for her freedom and would rather die than lose it. Beautiful and utterly seductive, she draws Don Jose to her as the candle flame draws the moth - and with similar results.
As Don Jose, Jean-Pierre Furlan matched Shaham with an intense, convincing portrayal of a weak man torn between the good and evil in his own nature as his obsession with Carmen drives him into madness. Furlan's voice combines exceptional power with beauty of tone and his La fleur que tu m'avais jetee was as spectacularly sung as it was poignant.
Isabelle Cals was an outstanding Micaela, bringing out the character's strength, making her a genuine force for good pitted against the forces of chaos represented by Carmen.