Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Opera House

Bizet took the unsentimental directness of Prosper Merimee’s short novella, Carmen, and infused it with incendiary energy and swirling musical colour. In their 2016 production, revived here, director John Bell and designers Michael Scott-Mitchell (set) and Teresa Negroponte (costumes) magnify the colour, piling outrageous tone on incongruous pattern until, like Carmen, the very clothing seems to scream, ‘‘As you can see, I don’t follow the rules. If you don’t like it, you had better stay away’’.

Veronica Simeoni as Carmen.

Veronica Simeoni as Carmen.Credit:James Alcock

Instead of Seville, the setting references Havana (not inappropriately for an opera whose most famous number is a Habanera) where ‘freedom’ is double-coded as ‘lawless’, and ‘attraction’ has its flipside in ‘betrayal’. Kelley Abbey’s choreography (revived by Amy Campbell) draws from the over-sexualised lithe hedonism of modern pop videos with additional breakdancing gusto from a young teenage troupe.

As Carmen, the rich colour of Veronica Simeoni’s mezzo soprano sound was, not surprisingly, more nuanced, and, vocally, fully equal to the role’s expressive range and complexity. From the sensuousness of Act I, incendiary eroticism of Act II, dark fatalism of Act III and fierce defiance of Act IV, she moulded tone and phrase to the setting point, and, in later acts, matched this with dramatic intensity which grew as the performance progressed. Her entrance in Act I was well-sung though in stage presence not quite smouldering, but every later encounter grew in fiery intensity.

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