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Carmen, Bizet
D: Francesca Zambello
C: Bertrand de BillyAlexander Joel
A workmanlike Carmen at the Royal Opera

In the title role, Elena Maximova disappointed. She has the looks and moves for the part, power to burn and the right sort of dark colour in the voice. But a thick accent was allied to awful diction, with hardly a consonant intelligible all evening. I spent the evening struggling to work out the words from a combination of memory and back-translation of the surtitles, and that kills any possibility of being swept away by siren-like sexuality, which is required to make the whole opera plausible. Just like the singing, the orchestral performance was mixed. Bertrand de Billy kept things moving nicely and strings and woodwind gave good, precise performances: the prelude to Act III, when they’re playing on their own, was the orchestral highlight of the evening. But there were simply too many errors and hesitancies in brass and percussion: this is a score where anything less than immaculate timing of triangle or tambourine notes can throw the whole flow of the music. The result was an orchestral performance that was adequate without ever touching greatness. Zambello’s staging is appealing: her take on 19th century Seville is well lit and bustling, very much one’s ideal of a Hispanic city in the burning sun gathered from Zorro movies or elsewhere. But it gives a lot of rope on which a revival director can hang himself: there is a huge amount of movement on stage and it all needs to be executed crisply. Under the revival direction of Duncan Macfarland and choreography of Sirena Tocco, last night’s cast and chorus were good enough to execute it all correctly, but not good enough to give the sense of doing so with abandon. The defining example was extras abseiling down the walls, who landed with care rather than with a thump and a flourish; the exception was the Royal Opera Youth Company, with the children throwing themselves into the action with delightful abandon and brio. For anyone seeing Carmen for the first time, this production will have been a more than satisfactory evening. Old hands hoping to see something extra will find it in Hymel and Car, but not elsewhere.

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20 October 2015bachtrack.comDavid Karlin
Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky
D: Richard Jones
C: Antonio Pappano
Opera review: Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House

It tells the tale of the 16th century Russian tsar Boris Godunov who seized power after the death of Ivan the Terrible, allegedly after supervising the murder of Ivan's son, and went on to be almost as terrible as his predecessor. In the opera, he is plagued with guilt and ends up going mad, so the whole thing becomes a case history of increasing derangement. Most unusually, there is no major role for a woman singer, so there are no great soprano arias to liughten the musical mood, and it is Boris who dies at the end after the plot has meandered through the darker realms of insanity. The credit for the power of this scene goes equally to Terfel and the director, Richard Jones, and his team, whose striking design and costumes provide a visual treat matching the power of the music. Jones does, however, rather overdo a repeated vision tormenting Boris of the murder of Ivan's son which brought Boris to power.With Bryn Terfel as Boris dominating the show, all other roles are reduced to bit parts, but it is worth mentioning John Tomlinson as a drunken monk, who provided a much needed comic interlude to interrupt the sombre tale. As always, however, Bryn Terfel is well worth seeing and the intensity drawn from the orchestra by Antonio Pappano is magnificent.

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29 March 2016www.express.co.ukWILLIAM HARTSTON

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