Review by Olivia Ruggiero
A cabaret based on Bizet’s “Carmen” is a brilliant concept. The world’s most popular opera with tunes that constantly pervade our unsuspecting lives. It is an accessible opera, one that stands the test of time due to its modernity, continual thematic relevance, and brilliant score. So, what happens when we give Carmen a chance to tell her version of events? To perform a one woman show without the nuisances (the men) who ultimately lead to her untimely demise? Surely, we would see a feminist take (it is 2023 after all), some sort of unsuspecting spin on the story we all know and love so well. That’s at least what we are set up for, but the ending is a little lackluster in this instance with Carmen herself (or at least the summoned ghost of Carmen) proclaiming that it was all about Don Jose all along… despite the fact she has the titular roles and gets all the best songs.
Eliane Morel is an engaging and likeable vehicle for this show. She is a wonderful storyteller who inhabits the physicality of Carmen beautifully and she is assisted by the sumptuous Darryl Wallis who is note perfect on the keys.
The Garage International is a perfect setting. A gorgeous cavernous church hall just booming with potential. My question is this – why does an opera singer need a microphone in a space so acoustically brilliant as this? Surely, someone who has portrayed Carmen, more than once, can use that vocal technique, the pursuit for vocal perfection that plagues opera singers, to show off just a little bit (as all opera singers love to do) and project with the focus and resonance that would only be assisted by the venue that has been so aptly chosen.
There’s a fabulous use of subtle costume changes and audience participation in this show with the Carmen devotee’s joining in for a rousing chorus of “Toreador”. The show does have some technical flaws though. The blue and red lighting certainly does evoke that sultry sexuality that Carmen is known for, however there are times when our leading lady doesn’t quite land in the light and she is shrouded in darkness, which doesn’t appear to be an artistic choice but rather a flaw in the technical design of the show.
The innate makeup of the show is flawed in some way, I wonder if it would have been more impactful to start the show as a character of some sort, perhaps an actress backstage trying to channel the spirit of Carmen who inadvertently summons her and gives her the opportunity the speak her story. Starting the show chatting to your audience about Carmen facts and thanking them for being here is lovely, but does feel disjointed when suddenly, we jump into this other world and quickly we are expected to believe Carmen is here with us, or at least her spirit.
I believe with a little more development this work has enormous potential. It’s commercial value in the world of opera and those that love cabaret is exponential. All the pieces are there, it is simply a matter of arranging them the right way to give the greatest impact to the audience.
Carmen the cabaret is a show worth seeing if you’re a huge fan of opera, Bizet, Carmen, or all of the above. It’s a whirlwind of all the greatest hits from the world’s most loved opera and is beautifully set at The Garage International at this year’s Adelaide Fringe.