I really love Pop-Up Opera. Not only because they make opera accessible to those who wouldn’t pick Covent Garden as their first choice of entertainment; or because they make work that can tour very easily, reaching many different regions and audiences; but also because they always manage to take a piece and boil it down to its core. What remains are the essentials, clearly communicated and performed brilliantly.
La Tragedie De Carmen is Peter Brook’s version of Bizet’s Carmen, one of the most popular operas in history, full of tunes virtually anyone could recognise. It is perhaps because it is so well-known, that Brook’s stripped back and simplified version really works. Instead of focusing on narrative or specific plot points, he puts the emphasis on the relationships between Don Jose, Carmen, Micaela and Escamillo, and brings their passions and emotions to the forefront, aided by Pop-Up Opera’s signature surtitles; brief, to the point and aesthetically pleasing.
On this occasion, Carmen ‘popped up’ in the Asylum Chapel in Peckham, a venue that is quite atmospheric both visually and acoustically. The set is merely a raised platform with a white backdrop, cleverly used for surtitles, video projections and even shadow work that amplifies the haunting nature of the piece. The intimacy of this set-up works incredibly well, apart from the times when the performers are on the floor – in these instances visibility is sadly a problem.
With very little on stage and no linear narrative, the singers have to carry the production, and they do so with stamina and exceptional quality. Alice Privett’s Micaela is mysterious and so much more than a mere side character; Satriya Krisna presents a conflicted and troubled Don Jose, a man who could snap at any second, but also shows capacity for tenderness and fragility in his moving delivery of the Flower Song. Chloe Latchmore gets little rest as Carmen, but is unrelentingly focused and embodies her not only vocally, but in every small movement as well; and James Corrigan gives us an unsettling version of Escamillo, a soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is deeply haunted. His vulnerability makes his relationship with Carmen quite tender, which is delicately portrayed by both Latchmore and Corrigan.
With great voices, clever surtitling and a production that successfully adapts to its surroundings, Pop-Up Opera offers a great evening to opera lovers and newbies alike.
La Tragedie De Carmen is touring until 23 November 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.