This article first appeared at auditionoracle.com
We want to set our sights high on your behalf at Audition Oracle and decided to begin 2014 right at the top. Last night we visited the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to see Carmen. It turned out to be a complete experience of the wonder and absurdity of opera, with all sorts of things happening we can all relate to.
First of all, the announcement. The ROH Director of Opera, Kasper Holten, came on stage to tell us that Christine Rice would be unable to sing the title role due to a 'severe, sustained cold'. This is, of course, a great pity, not least for Ms Rice herself. Carmen might be the principal mezzo-soprano role in the entire operatic repertory and the chance to sing a principal role at Covent Garden is what most of us dream of doing.
Of course a withdrawal often gives someone else a chance. Quietly we all imagine this too. The last minute standing in in a major role has the potential to jump-start a career. Well, on this occasion, another prima donna due to sing the role later in the run, Anna Caterina Antonacci, was available to stand in. No fairytale for an understudy, or replacement near London then - though another star principal for us in the audience.
That was all the 'backstage' drama we got to see during the evening. However, in a production featuring a children's choir and a stable of live animals - a chicken, a horse and a donkey, as far as I could see - there's always the possibility of things not going quite according to plan! Carmen is a 'verismo' opera, a piece in which the drama lives through its proximity to real life. The animals help us feel that when we watch. There are smoking cigarettes, gun shots and real fires on stage too, nothing mimed or done with video. It was a performance where everything felt very present.
When it's like this, opera really grabs you. Above all, of course, opera is about the real singing voice, unmediated by processing or amplification. You can feel the exertion in coloratura runs in the singing or long melismatic phrases where the effort that must be going on seems at odds to the apparent ease of the singer. The sound is as much about the physical connection as the aural quality.
We had a super principal cast for this Carmen, including Sarah Fox as Michaela, Yonghoon Lee as Don José and Kostas Smoriginas as the splendid torero, Escamillo (whose first entrance is on the aformentioned horse!). The opera is full of little roles for members of the chorus too who were excellent and represent the standards to which we all aspire.
Of course, the life outside the theatre is rather more prosaic and brings us down to earth. On our way out we walked past Escamillo's horse being prepared for the journey home - very far from the sun of southern Spain on this wet first London evening of the new year!
Happy 2014 to you and good luck in whatever you have planned and are trying to achieve.