Georges Bizet’s Carmen

A majestic opera gets an intimate setting with the Eat, Sing & Travel production of Carmen, writes Aref Omar


Photo credits to Wong Horngyih


IN the cosy confines of MapKL’s Black Box, the classical voices of soprano Ang Mei Foong and tenor Yap Jin Hin reverberated across the venue as they portrayed the tragic couple of Carmen and Don Jose respectively.

The opera, Carmen by the French composer Georges Bizet, unfolded in an unusual setting. Witnessed by a willing 200-strong audience that packed the tight boundaries of the venue, it created an intimate feel unlike the usual opera performances in a large theatre hall many times bigger.

Although the audience had the opportunity to be relatively closer to the performers, the seats were not configured on a gradual incline, so some shorter audience members at the back were seen craning their necks to get a better view.

Presented by the Eat, Sing & Travel people (EST) — who were also responsible for last year’s La Boheme — the opera, in four Acts, was directed by Italian soprano and educator Dr Michela Bertagnoli.

Carmen is based on a novella of the same name by Prosper Merimee, with the libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy.

Set in Seville around 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don Jose, who is lured away from his duties as a soldier and from his beloved Micaela by the gypsy factory girl, Carmen.

Performed for the first time at the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1875, Carmen wasn’t well-received initially. It only garnered praise much later, after the death of Bizet, and is now considered one of the most famous and most performed operas in the world.

Familiar tunes such as Habanera, Les Toreadors and Toreador’s Song were performed with vigour and panache.

The cast — Jane Soong (Micaela), Tan Jong Hann (Morales), Chi Hoe Mak (Zuniga), Cheng Xiao Ting (Frasquita), Lim Yee Fen (Mercedes), Cipriano De Guzman Jr (Escamillo), Wong Jun Wen (El Remendado), Terence Au (El Dancaire) — delivered competent performances and interpretations of the songs.

The natural unamplified voices of leads Ang and Yap were a joy to listen to although visually, Yap had a better grasp of emoting his character more convincingly. Other performers who stood out were Soong, as Micaela (the role of Micaela was double cast, with Jamie Sampana playing her on Oct 31 and yesterday) who loses the love of her man to the strong and sultry Carmen, and De Guzman Jr, whose charming and debonair Escamillo easily steals the heart of Carmen from Don Jose, prompting the jealous soldier to commit a crime of passion by taking her life.

With the EST production, the sung pieces were kept in their entirety but the dialogue was scaled down and edited for brevity. Subtitles in English and Chinese were projected on a screen for those who didn’t understand the French lyrics and dialogue.

Aside from the 34-strong EST Opera Chorus, the production also featured 25 children from the KL Children’s Choir and another 10 children from the Opera for Kids workshop, which added to its visual and aural splendour. Some of the younger children were adorable up front and added to the “cute factor” that lightened the heavy drama of the opera.

Four dancers also provided some brief feats of movements during the three-hour spectacle that included two 15-minute intervals.

Only at certain moments did the scaled down unit sound a little thin but this didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the opera which was in line with the production’s intimate feel.

The music, normally performed by a symphony orchestra, was channelled adequately by an ensemble of seven young musicians. Under the capable guidance of French conductor, composer and pianist Florian Caroubi, the melodic passages were tight and made for the perfect backing to the dramatic performances by the cast.

It’s not every day that Malaysians get to experience an opera and with Carmen, EST has done a commendable effort to provide such an experience.