City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong: Flamenco Classico
Flamenco Classico is an imaginative collaboration between the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and choreographer Nina Corti. Led by two outstanding flamenco dancers from Spain, Rosana Romero and Adrian Santana, the show was rapturously received by a packed house.
Musically, the most unusual item was the Quintet No 4 in D Major and G.448 Fandango by 18th century Italian composer Luigi Boccherini. The only piece to showcase the guitar, the closing fandango was distinguished by a thrilling virtuoso castanet performance by Romero.
This was followed by two of the best-known Spanish (or Spanish-influenced) compositions of all time. The first, Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo was performed with elan by the orchestra and showed off the dancers' classic flamenco skills, with their tapping feet, claps and snapping fingers enhancing the score.
The second, Bizet's Carmen was presented in the form of Russian composer Rodion Schedrin's 1967 Carmen Suite, created as a ballet for his wife the great Maya Plisetskaya. Schedrin's inclusion of other Bizet music and extensive use of instruments like the marimba and vibraphone resulted in the work being banned by the conservative Soviet authorities. Daring in its time, it today sounds dated and the instrumentation works against the music - the vibraphone is not ideal for expressing sexual passion or homicidal jealousy.
Corti gets full marks for ambition in staging Carmen as a two-hander and sensibly opts for an impressionistic approach. This produces some exceptional moments, notably a smouldering habanera, while Carmen's murder was so dramatic the small girl in front of me flung herself into her mother's lap in terror, a tribute to the performers' power.
However, a cast of two is too restrictive - the succession of she-loves-me, she-loves-me not duets becomes repetitive and confusion creeps in with Santana portraying both Don José and Escamillo. And while flamenco is an ideal emotional match for the story, the dance vocabulary is limiting in this context.
Any quibbles about music or choreography were overcome by the spectacular performances of Romero and Santana, whose technical brilliance was equalled by the intensity of their interpretation. A dazzling encore of pure flamenco sent the audience home happy.