Watching Mi Carmen Flamenca this weekend at the Royal Opera House Muscat was like watching the ‘bull run’ in Spain. It was exhilarating, action-packed and there were only a few pauses in between that you barely have time to breathe to process what was happening.
If you’ve missed it, it would have been utterly a disservice to your weekend experience. It’s not everyday that the Compania Antonio Andrade is in town much more principal dancers Ursula Morena (Carmen), Jose Galvan (Don Jose), and Jose Jurado (Escamillo) who were stunning and magical in their performance it was a nearly two-hour show where every minute counted.
The flamenco version of Carmen is stripped of the pompousness and grandiosity of its opera version which I was fortunate to see in the past performed in ROHM as well but it doesn’t mean that it was eclipsed in the overall effect. If there’s one thing about the performance last Friday, you’d realise that there is so much power in a darkened stage and only well-played lights to set the mood and the location. While other shows are dead without a good set design, Mi Carmen Flamenca’s lack of it brought all the attention to the performance that often, I forget there was nothing there behind the actors but a black background. That is power — to be able to convey a story with minimal need for other visuals.
Mi Carmen Flamenca is 100 per cent Andalusian flamenco and has been performed across the world in some of the best theatres including Shanghai’s Oriental Art Centre, Peking’s Mei Langfan Grand Opera and Malaga in Spain’s Echegarray Theatre and already were booked in different cities across Spain and even Europe.
The show in Muscat was a blessing for us to have a deep dive into why this show is a force to be reckoned with and while played at the smaller venue of the Royal Opera House of Musical Arts, the intimateness of the space heightened the experience even more that at the end of Friday’s performance, it received a three-minute standing ovation from the spectators.
As a little backgrounder, two Frenchmen had given life to this Spanish legend — the tragic novel was written by Prosper Merimee with Georges Bizet giving it life as an opera. Set in the 1830s Seville, the story revolves around the love and jealousy of soldier Don Jose and his beloved Micaela. As the story goes, Don Jose was smitten by the gipsy factory-girl Carmen and the back-and-forth drama will eventually lead to a haunting death scene with Carmen ending knifed and dead.
What Antonio Andrade and his flamenco company did to this version is bring it back to its root and so effectively with the power and gusto of a Spanish telenovela that you will be hooked from the first scene alone.
What was even more enjoyable is that aside from playing classic themes of Carmen, they also spiced it up with some Arabic elements, jazz and salsa with every scene performed with that inexhaustible flamenco spirit you hold on to your seat as the taps and the chants transport you within inside the world of Carmen itself.
And this is perhaps the reason why the audience laughed, rejoiced and grooved with the actors — some of the music was familiar, like listening to an Arab radio show but at the same time foreign that it’s intriguing and titillating at the same time.
There was numerous stand out moments in the whole performance. Carmen dancing with her red poncho imitating a phoenix reborn to life was a top favourite. The scene where both girls fighting over the affection of Don Jose imitating the aggressiveness of a bullfight was the standout number on Scene 1. The tap dances, the clapping, they all made the whole scene so vibrant making it hard to rank the performances for every scene. But of all the drama, it was the death scene that wrapped the whole experience altogether. The stage bled in red light, the music eerie, a dead body on the floor and it goes on for a full minute the audience just left with their spirit crushed on the floor. It was an experience that I cannot give justice to with words but so vivid I will think of it moving forward whenever I watch another Carmen performance.
Due credits have to be given to singers Rocio Maroyal and Pablo Oliva — without those voices, it would have been a different experience altogether. The masterful playing of guitarist Antonio Andrade and Javier Leal with Vicente Dominguez had wonderfully made the show what it is. The music arrangement was so well thought out and positioned — strong when needed, menacing when the scene calls for it — that had made me fall in love with this performance just like the rest of the attendees.
I usually don’t agree with PRs sent when building up shows like Carmen. But when ROHM said that Mi Carmen Flamenca “takes the opera Carmen from exile of a classical opera to the flamenco of its roots in both aspects of music and dance... direct, pure and without pomposity,” they were talking of the truth and nothing but the whole truth. And there was nothing I wished more but for a lot of people to hopefully have seen it.
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