Carmen, the world's most popular opera, was a good choice for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra's final 2017 Gala.
Performed as a concert, it was a bells-and-whistles grand affair with a Children’s Chorus, the Opera Q Chorus, guest dancers from the Queensland Ballet, students from Lisa Gasteen National Opera School, and three acclaimed international artists making their Australian debuts in principal roles - indeed, a surfeit of riches.
Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova is a legendary Carmen, having performed the part frequently in European opera houses and even on DVD. Dressed in a long-flowing evening gown with plunging neckline, she was a sexy and sultry cigarette girl, fiercely independent and a magnetic force. Despite her top notes being secure, a frequent harshness of tone and intonation marred her opening sequence but she redeemed with an alluring Seguidilla.
Opposite her, and the star of the concert, was young Italian-Brazilian tenor Thiago Arancam as Don Jose - handsome, sensuous, with superb vocals, especially Act 2’s the “Flower Song”, and a simply beautiful “Letter Scene” duet with Michaela (Morgan England-Jones).
The coupling of Kasarova and Arancam with their age differences, added a Sunset Boulevard older-woman/younger-man vibe to the scenario, which made for an interesting switch. Adrian Timpau’s Escamillo was a dynamic presence bringing arrogant swagger and dexterous vocal control to Toreador, en garde.
All of the supporting roles were sung by students from the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School with Morgan England-Jones an outstanding Michaela. Each act opened with a brief lover’s Pas de Duex, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and danced by Yanela Pinera and Alexander Idaszak,which nicely set the scene for the drama to come, whilst the Voices of Birralee children’s chorus added texture to the overall performance.
Sound was occasionally a problem, with the Opera Q Chorus difficult to hear at times, and lighting was also spotty, with some principals often in shadow, but the orchestra under Alondra de la Parra played with energetic commitment and fiery passion.
Review by Peter Pinne