Sunday, January 23, 2011

SLO Carmen in Review (21 Jan 2011)

Our new reviewer Alvin tells us about his experience at opening night of the SLO's new Carmen. It seemed to be quite a visual feast so apologies for the lack of, well, visuals. Production pictures will be published here as soon as they are ready. Meanwhile, on with the review:


What do you get when you have a pair of tragically flawed characters, great dancing, a splendid and intriguing plot, beautiful orchestra music and gorgeous arias, duets, etc. which includes a few memorable tunes that you can hum along to, and sung in arguably the world's most romantic language? A recipe for a most promising opera experience! Throw in a few gypsy girls including the lead and a matador in the context of Spain and you must know what opera I am referring to.

The mood of Singapore Lyric Opera's production of Georges Bizet's Carmen was effectively set in the opening as the the intertwining fates of the three main characters, Carmen, Don Jose and Micaela, were acted out during the overture, summarising the plot and foreshadowing the tragedy to come. Such economy was gratifying given the length of the opera vs the general lack of patience among average Singaporeans.

The main characters

I did not expect much vocally from the willowy dancer frame of Sophie Fournier as Carmen. I was wrong. Her smoky mezzo soprano was supple, voluble and delightfully colourful, adding textural depth to her already consummate and original interpretation of the eponymous role. Ms. Fournier's performance captured not only what you must expect from the title role - caprice, vivacity, passion, callous liberty but also displayed a sense of elusive refinement amidst the wild child act. She was Lilith, the first consort of Adam as she artistically and actively simulated the act of coitus with Don Jose in a non- missionary position.

Lee Jae Wook's Don Jose was sufficiently well done as the role requires not only a robust tenor with treacherous high notes but also an ability to act well. What was lacking in his acting was quickly made up by his rich lyric tenor voice which conveyed the drama of his character.

Li Yang's bright lyric soprano suited the role of Micaela and provided a contrast between her character and that of Carmen although her vocals were at times too twangy. Her famous aria in Act III would have been quite effective in the unfolding of the plot if not for the final pernicious pianissimo which she tried to attempt albeit not too successfully and the slight lack of colour and dramatic expression in her delivery.

Huang Rong Hai's Escamillo's entrance (the Toreador) was deserving of the applause given as he played the role with charisma, fevour and conviction despite the lack of a fuller bass baritone especially in the low notes of the famous Toreador aria. His stage presence and conscientious enunciation more than adequately made up for the technical vocal challenges in his role as he wowed the audience with his bravado theatrics.

Stage Direction, Interpretation and Choreography

I was quite impressed with the use of monochromatic stills of gypsies, water, flames and mountainous landscapes which conveyed a sense of historical realism, the high key analogous colour scheme of the stage, and the clever use of the railings as a warm up bar for the dancers that added variety and diversion to the otherwise serious mood. Kudos must be given to the choreographer and director, whose separate directions blended so well together that I would have thought they are designed the same person; the acting, choreographed movements, gestures and dancing went on seamlessly. At one point, Carmen was rolling on the floor like a modern dancer doing a floor sashay and singing at the same time, taking our breath away with such a challenging feat.

The Orchestra and Chorus

The orchestra was quite good under the baton of conductor Joshua Kangming Tan who ensured a fine balance in the colour, dynamics and phrasing of the sound between the orchestra and the singers and chorus. The soothing flute solo would have been a brief highlight if not for that one single struggled high note. The
chorus, especially the male chorus complemented the singers well, as they played the different subordinate roles.


What is deserving of a very special mention is the final scene when the confrontation of Carmen and Don Jose was artfully done with no eye contact with each other. Facing the audience and singing to us as if we were the characters, the act was intensified as we could not help it but accept that the tragic end, which was forecast and hinted by the brief insight to the superstitious heritage of a gypsy woman in the middle of the opera, not to mention the flawed characters of Carmen and Don Jose, was inevitable but indeed comfortingly cathartic as Carmen stepped into what was the symbol of a coffin while Don Jose moved towards it and killed her as if as it was done as an act of grace.

Overall this production of Carmen made for a wonderful evening at the theatre. Congratulations to the team at the SLO for another job well done.


The Singapore Lyric Opera's production of Carmen has two more performances on 24 and 25 January 2011. Check out the Events Page for details.


  1. i'm one of those that hated the act 4 ending. it's like a concert performance with the two leads singing towards the's sorely lacking in dramatic tension and it's very disappointing!!


  2. I much preferred the 2002 production of Carmen than SLO did. It was on a much smaller scale with hardly the set it had this time but I thought it had a better cast and much better direction.

  3. I just read some reviews on this SLO's Carmen and I think I am changing my mind to watch this. The Act 4 Ending should remains a showdown. That was the essence of the original.

  4. i thought this was a top class carmen all round - singing, conducting, and the production too. the finale worked for me - there's basis in the text: e.g. jamais Carmen ne cedera, libre elle est nee et libre elle mourra, she knows she will die and she prefers death (and freedom). there's a beautiful inevitability in the treatment from the director. besides all the tension you need is in the music.

    the escamillio for me was a little too youthful in voice and struggled in the top notes, while don jose seems to be picking up nancy yuen's trademark 'two-step' when attacking exposed parts (and there are so many of them!). but that's just quibbling - terrific performance all round, especially the chorus i think.


  5. something i sent to a friend, sorry it is in chinese:




    那位斗牛士,也是,有声音,没神韵。他是Bass-Baritone,唱这个high Baritone的角色,在唱高音时,声音明显的有弱掉。他前面几幕的服装更惨不忍睹。什么时候西班牙斗牛士穿得像马来勇士汉都亚一样,拿着短剑在对打?还好最后一幕,他的经典服饰才有上场。



  6. I am a great fan of Lee Jae Wook. However it seems that of recent in singing heavier roles he
    has lost some of the beautiful lyrical quality he previously had.So the tender duet with Micaela was not as touching as he may have previously sung it. I hope he can balance both
    the lyrical and dramatic qualities of his voice.
    He is an oustanding singer .


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