Secret Opera, created in 2014 as part of The New London Opera Players, is presenting (as part of The Gender Project) a number of opera productions approached from a LGBT point of view, particularly in relation to casting. CarMen, an all-male version of Bizet’s classic, attempts to recreate the original story with an interesting twist that reduces the cast to three men, one of them a dancer.
First of all, it must be noted that this is not just Carmen with a male cast, but a version of it, using certain parts of the score and sometimes changing who sings what (lines of the chorus sung by Don José, for example) and even the text itself. This produces a new story that uses Bizet’s music for its own purposes, even though the basics of the original are kept. José meets Carmen, a performer, and attraction is instantaneous. After spending the night together, José drinks too much and Carmen challenges him to go with him in an adventure (a cruising ground). Later on, Carmen meets his fate when José attempts to stop him going through the gates of the bullring, where he is headed to see his latest conquest, Escamillo.
Jorg Delfos and Robin Pietà sing the roles of Carmen and José respectively, and Pietà also directs and designs the production. Delfos (countertenor) gives a vocal performance that is solid in the middle register, with beautiful legato and expressiveness, but gets somewhat strained in the higher notes. On the other hand, his Carmen is cold – the mafia outfit does not particularly help – and more careless and indolent than in more traditional versions, making the audience less sympathetic towards him. Pietà as José has a warm tone that is pleasing to listen to, filling the room with it. However, he seemed to lose accuracy as the show went on, and in the last scenes he struggled with the high notes, although he gives a good character performance overall – believable and intense.
The highlight of the evening comes unexpectedly, as the role of The Dancer is foreign to the original story. Young dancer Luke Mann – seen in Sky 1’s Got to Dance in 2011-12 – gives a beautiful performance, showing his technique and ability to convey emotions through movement. His character, representing José’s desires, dominates the stage with ease, force and charm. Lastly, Andrew Charity is both the pianist and musical director, being effective in both fields and showing a clear understanding of the dynamics of Bizet’s work.
With partial nudity and an LGBT interpretation of the story, CarMen is a bold update of the original. With a very simple production and a cast of three, this story of love and betrayal is conveyed easily. Although slightly shallow, with some indecisiveness in regards to costumes and at times irregular singing, it is a brave adaptation that has well-thought out production values, wonderful dancing and hopefully a long life ahead of improving and maturing.
CarMen is playing at the LOST Theatre until 4 March. For more information and tickets, see the LOST Theatre website.