Review- Carmen: Visually Flawless

10 metre high hands rise up from a lake, dropping a pack of cards and clasping at a 6 metre long cigarette. The cards, measuring at 30 sq metre each, frame the backdrop for Carmen On the Lake. This is the latest theatrical event to show at the Bregenz Festival, Austria. The iconic floating stage has become renowned for its spectacular sets. For one night only on the 14th September, Carmen will be broadcast to cinemas around the world. The falling cards were designed by British set designer, Es Devlin, and are as eye-catching as they are relevant to the concept of the opera.

Daniel Johansson and Gaelle Arquez as Carmen and Don Jose

Carmen, the French opera by Georges Bizetcentres on the eponymous fiery gypsy Carmen. From Carmen comes some of the best known arias in opera including ‘The Habenera’ and The Toreador Song.’ There is a large cast, contributing to the vast scale of the show. Each member is hugely talented, hitting each note of these operatic numbers and filling the words with meaning. Despite the language barrier for English viewers, there will be no difficulty in understanding their emotion.

On the lake in Bregenz sits the stage designed by Es Devlin 

Directed by Kasper Holton, this latest rendition is exceptionally accomplished, staying faithful to the original opera whilst utilising modern technology and costumes. Gaelle Arquez as Carmen is a perfect casting, as she is both visually compelling and entirely believable in her portrayal of the title role. Carmen is not very likeable, and is a powerful and flawed female character. Her opening lines include ‘If you do not love me, I love you. But if I love you, be careful.’ For an opera originally performed in 1875, this is an astute understanding of a complex woman. Arquez manages to spit out these lines, at once showing self-awareness, strength and hidden vulnerability, making the final scene even more poignant. Equally, Daniel Johansson as Don Jose is able to play a confused male lead, whose entire character evolves and darkens throughout the show. Carmen’s private dance for Jose in Act 2 was a particularly well-acted scene from both Arquez and Johansson as they portrayed a man torn between love of a woman and duty for his country.

The show utilises the lake itself as a prop

Visually, Carmen on the Lake is flawless, utilising the lake itself as a prop. The stage is lowered to allow it to be submerged at points. Luke Halls’ video projections onto the cards allowed for multiple angles of viewing the drama as it unfolds, symbolising Carmen’s own, inescapable tragic fate. For example, as we are introduced to Carmen, a huge Queen of Hearts is turned over behind her. The costumes by Anja Vang Kragh are stunning and furthermore convey deeper symbolism and character development. As Es Devlin explains in the intermission feature, it took two years to construct the stage. It was a huge undertaking but the payoff is evident in every thrilling moment of the show.

The final scene was completely absorbing, a true mastery of staging, directing and acting. It is a moment you will want to rewatch.  The broadcast on the 14th is sure to be an unforgettable spectacle and should not be missed. 

To find a showing near you head here. 

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