It is in the second act at Lilas Pastia’s Tavern that the ballet ignites. Escamillo parades in tight black leather surrounded by a bevy of sexy and savvy beauties clothed in Jon Bausor’s flamboyant gypsy costumes. Carmen sits on the side watching her prey before stepping forward and turning on her charm, an aphrodisiac of such potency it takes your breath away. The scene builds through slow burn to reach combustion point as Scarlett’s highly charged choreography pairs Carmen and Escamillo in a duet of rock hard desire. Don José’s late arrival at the almost empty tavern results in a more ambiguous and intriguing duet that moves through rejection, to passion and fulfilment.
Martin Yates, who conducted the performance, is also responsible for the arrangement of Georges Bizet’s music. It is masterful scoring that comes alive in the fine detail, particularly in Act 2, where he shapes the dynamics brilliantly.
The third act is a brave move to a surreal Giorgio de Chirico type landscape. Bausor has designed a somewhat off-kilter bullring where the spectators are all women shrouded in black gauze; frozen in exaggerated poses. The banderillas piercing the carcass of the bull lying downstage introduce the only tufts of bright colour in the muted setting. The scene is played as a ritual slaughter: first the bull, then Carmen.
She arrives veiled in bridal white, exquisitely dressed and perfectly groomed. She is wedded to Escamillo and you know she is doomed. Their grand pas de deux is a parody of the usual celebratory finale. Clinical and loveless, though technically well performed, it is not the highlight that tradition demands but so much more interesting dramatically. The crowd exits with their hero Escamillo, Don José enters and the decisive battle begins. Finally he has his Carmen but it is only her lifeless body that he embraces.
There is an enormous hunger in Opera Houses for three act narrative ballets. Liam Scarlett’s Carmen with a slew of fine roles, masses of good dance and a well-loved score fits the bill and will surely enjoy a long and successful life despite the unorthodoxy of the drama.
30 March 2015