Akhmetshina's "devastating" Carmen at Wilton's Music Hall

Akhmetshina's "devastating" Carmen at Wilton's Music Hall

Vivian Darkbloom

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending the Jette Parker production of La Tragédie de Carmen. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a reduction of such an iconic piece, but it was wonderfully done. The simplification actually served the dramatic shape of the characters. Director Gerard Jones made good use of the space at Wilton’s Music Hall, crafting a show that had a wonderful sense of dramatic pacing balanced with humour and tragedy. The internal struggles of the characters became the focus due to the simplicity of the production and its staging. The young singers were also fabulous, carrying us through with consistent and compelling story-telling.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Carmen) in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

Don José was sung by tenor Thomas Atkins, who brought to life a dark and tormented young man. This Don José was a portrayal of the brutality of obsession and idealisation. Atkins delivered a characterisation was well rounded and disturbing. His singing was a perfect match for this level of dramatic intensity- he had a bright, powerful sound with an unexpected tender beauty. He did seem a little self conscious of his high notes, meaning we lost a little of his character in some key moments.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Carmen) in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

Gyula Nagy brought a wonderful sense of fearlessness into his portrayal of Escamillo. He was hilarious and incredibly engaging from his first moment, commanding the stage with bravado. This level of extroversion was perfect for the role, a stark contrast to the dark moodiness of José. His voice was warm and flexible, easily managing the challenges and drama of the role.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Carmen) and Gyula Nagy (Escamillo) in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

Francesca Chiejina was heartbreaking as the young Micaëla, convincingly uncomfortable in her own skin. Her voice was absolutely stunning- warm and rich, soaring through the difficult corners of her aria, “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”. She did occasionally lose a little energy on the stage, a fact not helped by the fact that she was often hiding from other characters. I would have loved to hear more from her, and for her character to have been given more of a story line.

Francesca Chiejina (Micaëla) in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

All the young singers performed admirably, but Aigul Akhmetshina stole the show as a sultry, devastating Carmen. She was absolutely stunning. She was a vixen, but her sensuality was brilliantly balanced with a heartbreaking awareness of her own impending death. Her singing was gorgeous - a rich voice full of colour and flexibility that blossomed into an unexpectedly full, gorgeous sound in the top. She navigated the role with confidence and ease, bringing the audience easily into her tragic world.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Carmen) in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

Finally, though James Hendry was an incredibly dynamic conductor, he was, at times, quite distracting. The pit was directly behind the singers, meaning we could see him very well. He mouthed along with all the arias, and at some points, he made noises that pulled my attention from the singers. However, his conducting was wonderfully passionate and the orchestra played with a full rich sound under his baton.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Carmen) and conductor James Hendry in La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening, incredibly engaging dramatically and musically. I did think that the costuming looked a little cheap and casual, which slightly spoiled the magic at times. It was also generally inconsistent in aesthetic, each character appearing to be from a different decade.

A production image from La tragédie de Carmen, ROH. Photo: Clive Barda.

La Tragédie de Carmen runs through November 14 at Wilton’s Music Hall. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.

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