Words by various translations and Music by Georges Bizet
Nuffield Theatre,
March 1999
Director: Sue Barber
Cast List
Le Remendado
Le Dancaire
Don Jose
Lillas Pastia

Notes on this performance

90. Carmen 

British reserve…

Pam de Grouchy resigned as Chairman at the end of the season and Alan Marshall was duly elected. However, having to deal with Carmen as his first show and also the Society’s 75th Anniversary was not the easiest initiation into the job. It started very well: British American Tobacco was keen to sponsor the production, a £500 grant was donated by Southern Arts and the operatic ‘dream-team’ of Sue Barber (Director) and Philip Johnson (MD) was re-installed following their acclaimed La Traviata.

The usual influx of new members with operatic voices did not materialise this time – just Elizabeth Mason (who played Michaëla) and two returning members, Anthony Reid (Don José) and Frank Zaragoza (Zuniga). The rest of the cast had a familiar ring to it – Angela Mackie (Carmen), David Rayner (Escamillo), Colin Sly (Dancaïre), Janet Green (Frasquita), Paul Webb (Le Remendado), Lorraine Morgan (Mercédès), Kim Hill (Moralès) and Alan Morgan (Lillas Pastia). Rehearsal attendance was again a problem though, especially with the principals and it became very difficult to find a time when the members of the quintet were all available to go through their song.

There was only one set for the four acts and some confusion over the flats used – the small ones belonging to the Juniors were mistakenly loaded on the van. Unfortunately, Moralès had problems with the opening solo which did not create a confident start, but the eleven strong chorus of urchins (selected from the Juniors) was a talented group and excelled - it included Joseph Wright (a future SOS principal) and Laura Carmichael (who later starred as Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey). 

Somehow, this Carmen did not seem to have the same edge as previous incarnations and, perhaps, the review in the Echo summed up the production fairly accurately: ‘This fabulous opera is renowned for its decadent sensuality. Carmen – a woman of free-spirit will not be restricted by any man and pays the tragic price. Angela Mackie is a swanky Carmen but doesn’t capture the gypsy’s sultry danger. Her Don José, played by Anthony Reid, delivered arias rather than creating a character. 

Much more impact came from Elizabeth Mason as the understanding and sweet Michaëla who exuded vulnerability both in voice and body language. The two animated duos of Frasquita and Mercédès and smugglers Le Dancaïre and Le Remendado gave the second act much-needed vivacity. There was also a charming performance from the urchin chorus followed by a convincing cat-fight by the hair-tugging, cigarette girls. But overall, an opera focussed on raw passion and lust for freedom was presented with too much restraint. More Catalan abandon, less British reserve was desperately needed to bring this show alive.’

Though it is difficult to argue against its contents, the Society would not have been pleased at reading the review, but it seems to have had the opposite effect to that anticipated as, by the end of the week, it was impossible to buy a ticket. Perhaps people wanted to see for themselves?  Carmen made a healthy profit of £5006. 

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Michaela

Kim Hill (Morales) with Elizabeth Mason (Michaela)

Photo of Urchins

The Chorus of Urchins

Photo of Carmen

Frank Zaragoza (Zuniga) with Angela Mackie (Carmen) and Anthony Reid (Don Jose)

Photo of Trio

Janet Green (Frasquita), Angela Mackie (Carmen), Lorraine Morgan (Mercedes)

Photo of Escamillo

David Rayner (Escamillo)

Photo of Smugglers 

Janet Green (Frasquita), Colin Sly (La Dancaire), Lorraine Morgan (Mercedes), Paul Webb (Le Remendado), Angela Mackie (Carmen) - in the background Alan Morgan (Lillas Pastia)