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Photo: Miklos Szabo


Imagine creamy, dark maple syrup drifting down through crystal clear icetea.

That’s the sound of Swedish mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Jansson seducing the Royal Opera House in this well-received revival of star director Barrie Kosky’s radical interpretation of Carmen.

A beautiful, dark mezzo with dazzling brilliance and clarity in the high register, she and an impressively powerful, razor-sharp Copenhagen Opera chorus lift this revival to the highest level.

Cabaret, opera, dance and mass choreography come together in a show that is arguably more Kosky than Carmen. But if you’re ready for Barrie Kosky’s wacky universe, you are in for a treat.

I’m aware that more conservative reviewers have called ‘Circus Kosky ‘the triumph of style over substance. That’s not entirely wrong – and it’s anything but dull. It may even open the doors of opera to a wider audience.

Kosky’s Carmen is all her own and goes her own way.

Carmen is an alpha female for the times, the epitome of woman power in the #MeToo age, and whatever else you can include of meta-layers and clichés significant to our time. 

It is somewhere in this portrait of Carmen, that the core message of Kosky’s interpretation must be found.

Carmen is mischievous, playful, seductive, unreasonable, faithless, feminine, masculine, free, – modern. Kosky clears the stage and makes room for the portrait.

If you’re thinking an evening wrapped in colorful Andalusian Seville folklore, think again.

On a giant staircase that makes up the entire set, large-scale song and dance numbers unfold, tied together and expedited by danish actor Maria Rich’s silky narrative voice. Sung recitatives are so much yesterday – the Kosky Express must go on!

The plot you already know. Carmen turns inside out the heart of poor Don José, who, blinded by impossible love, is driven around the ring to the warning of any man who tries to conquer a woman by begging for her love.

Jansson’s attractive appearance fully supports the character’s dangerously flirtatious charisma and is both dramatically and vocally a perfect cast that puts the Habanera perfectly in place.

Experienced Danish tenor Niels Jørgen Riis seems to lack a bit of vocal depth and x factor in the role of Don José this evening. The same goes for Perrine Madoeuf in the role of Michaela, who delivers an indisputable beautiful soprano just a bit on the light side.

Escarmilo the Toreador is sung powerfully and with great authority by baritone Jens Søndergaard.

There’s plenty of innovation and shamelessness when Kosky lets loose, his take almost becoming a brand that made the ‘home’ Komische Oper in Berlin one of Europe’s most exciting and entertaining opera houses to visit.

Recent seasons have seen several outstanding productions from the hand of Barrie Kosky.

Händel’s baroque opera Agrippina was a crazy entanglement plot, staged in a gigantic cartoon template with the cast jumping from square to square, making the whole silly plot wonderfully goofy. All set to super-smooth baroque music, piquant humour, exceptional timing and fantastic singers.

I was lucky enough to have access to the afterparty where Kosky was dressed in big orange glasses, string hair and flip flops!

The utterly phenomenal Orpheus in the Underworld burst out as a rainbow-colored mega-hit in Austria, where neither critics nor audience could keep their arms down afterwards. I dropped my lower jaw right to my chest in amazement at how musically, humourously and equilibristic all the coarse-grained escapades could be delivered, so that you just had to lie down flat.

Kosky’s Rosenkavalier from Munich was melancholy, glitteringly beautiful – and his Katja Kabanova this summer, was the best opera of the year at the Salzburg Festspiele.

Bizet’s famous music for Carmen, in the hands of a superbly performing Kgl. Kapel. Conductor Hossein Pishkar pounds the tale out in brisk, Andalusian rhythms, backed by precise power from the opera chorus, who participate as an integral part of the performance, and clearly enjoy it!

The show’s grand finale is a real Kosky climax with the whole giant ensemble on stage including an unforgettable chorus line of wonderfully dancing, swaggering toreadors in brightly coloured bullfighter outfits. One is reminded of Robin Hood’s rakish sidekicks in Shrek and Monty Phyton’s immortal sketch about the Canadian lumberjackets, who may not be quite as straight as one thought.

That finale wins the night for Kosky and Carmen. A smash of a show – a modern Carmen on the loose in a Kosky universe full of surprises, humour, great music, spectacular tableaux, drive and modernity.

As you may have noticed, I disagree with earlier BT reviews and find the performance boldly updated, entertaining and absolutely satisfying.