AAR OA Carmen Angela Hogan photo by Jeff BusbyThere are many reasons why Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most popular operas in the canon. Primarily it is Bizet’s tune-filled score in which nearly every aria is an ear-worm.

It has an intriguing story in which the tempestuous heroine as the central role as is a gift showcase for every ambitious diva worth her salt. It is also a magnet for the possibilities it offers for imaginative directors and designers.

With this production designed specifically for touring, Opera Australia has hit the jackpot. Director Matthew Barclay has chosen to update his production to Franco’s Spain in the 1960’s, where Don Jose now joins a band of Romani Gypsy bikies who hang out in a drive-in theatre showing vintage movies.

Riffing on this idea, and mindful that this production would be seen in forty different theatres during its tour,  Anna Cordingley has designed an attractive economical setting, cleverly repurposing various elements to give each of the four acts, an individual locale.

She’s enclosed the lot in faux festoon curtains, legs and borders to give the impression of a modern production presented on a period opera house stage, which, beautifully lit by Paul Jackson, looked quite lovely on the Canberra Theatre stage.

For her costumes Cordingley has taken advantage of the 1960’s penchant for swirling skirts for her gypsy girls in the early scenes, introducing jeans and leather jackets for the bikies later.

Despite being a small cast by opera house standards, this production boasts three Carmens, three Micaela’s, two Don Jose’s, two Escamillos and two Zunigas, as well as doubles for most of the minor characters, all of whom double as ensemble when not performing a feature role.

Given the quality of the opening night cast and performance, there is a strong temptation to attend other performances to experience the various interpretations.

On opening night Angela Hogan was a thrilling Carmen. Vocally assured, her warm mezzo impressive from the top to the bottom of her range, secure in her allure, she commanded the stage from her very first entrance.

Whether tantalising the policemen  with the famous “Habanera” for the amusement of her colleagues, cat fighting, or exercising her knowledgeable seduction skills on the hapless Don Jose, Hogan lived and breathed the role.

As the object of her attentions, Iain Henderson gave a strong performance as the conflicted Don Jose. Vocally impressive, his second act Flower Song provided one of the vocal highlights of the evening. As Micaela, the unfortunate harbinger of bad news from his mother, Danita Weatherstone also sang and acted appealingly.

Tall and commanding Haotian Qi almost stopped the show with his thrilling baritone voice in the stirring, though oddly costumed Toreador’s Song in the excellently staged Lillias Bar scene, while Alexander Sefton also displayed a fine baritone and strong presence as the loathsome Zuniga.

Giuseppina Grech and Genevieve Dickson as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes, Michael Lampard as Dancairo, Daniel Macey as Morales, and Genevieve Dickson as Mercedes, all sang well and danced Barclay’s clever choreography with enthusiasm, often giving the impression that there were many more on stage than there actually was.

Particular pleasures with this production were the excellent playing of the small orchestra conducted by Luke Spicer which interpreted Robert Andrew Greene’s clever orchestral arrangements with ebullience and taste, and the enthusiastic performances of the children from the Woden Valley Youth Choir who performed their roles like troupers.

Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 8 July 2021
Season continues to 10 July 2021
Information and Bookings:

Following the Canberra season, Carmen will continue its tour across Australia. For more information and tour dates, visit: for details.

Image: Angela Hogan stars as Carmen in Opera Australia’s touring production of Carmen – photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Bill Stephens OAM