Review: Buxton International Festival 2024 Opens with Intimate Version of Carmen


Buxton International Festival 2024 heralded the start of their 18 day celebration of the arts with one of the most performed operas of all time, Carmen, or to be more precise, Peter Brooks’ version of the story, La tragedie de Carmen.

If you know only a little about Carmen, you can be forgiven for heading to Buxton Opera House, expecting to be blasted by a full chorus strutting around sizzling 19th century Spain. If you think you don’t know the tunes, you will quickly realise that you do. Carmen’s full of bangers that have become integrated into more mainstream culture, and subsequently, our modern psyche.

Brooks’ version, however, is a shorter and more stripped-down version, with only four voices on the stage and a dimly-lit mountain of wooden boxes to represent the set. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You get to tread every step with the troubled Gyspy woman, the eponymous Carmen, through the dangerous streets of Seville, with jealous lovers seemingly around every corner.

The approach makes for a more intimate experience, suited to the cosy confines of Buxton Opera House. The theatrical rapport is accentuated by Carmen changing her dress regularly in front of the audience, neither do the characters rarely leave the stage, instead taking seats and having a drink when they’re not needed, instead of disappearing into the wings. Dispensing with realism is a bold gamble for a tale that relies so heavily on emotional investment so it’s difficult to know what objective the production is trying to achieve. For more seasoned opera goers, it may be a welcome change of pace, whereas as those seeking Carmen for the first time, would perhaps better off with experiencing Bizet’s original four-act stomper. 

As far as the individual performers are concerned, they were faultless, with Niamh O’Sullivan particularly beguiling as Carmen. Buxton International Festival regulars Northern Chamber Orchestra were equally pitch perfect so we urge you along to this production.

More performances of La tragedie de Carmen take place on 9th13th and 16th July at Buxton Opera House. Click here for more information and for ticket bookings.

Buxton International Festival runs until 21st July, an extensive programme of opera, classical and chamber music, book talks and jazz gigs. Click here to see the full programme of events.

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