Christopher Hillier as Morales in Carmen

Originally appeared 15th May 2014 at


By Georges Bizet. Opera Australia. Director: Francesca Zambello. Conductor: Brian Castles-Onion. Arts Centre Melbourne. May 14 – 25, 2014.

Opera Australia’s Carmen had an enthusiastic reception from a packed opening night audience which was well deserved. This was the original Carmen with spoken dialogue. Carmen lives or dies on the quality of the mezzo playing the title role. Spaniard Nancy Fabiola Herrera was one of the best I’ve seen and I was not surprised to note she had performed the role at the Met and Covent Garden.

Apart from her sexy interpretation, it was the richness of her lovely voice and ease of vocal production which won me over. I don’t expect to hear a better.

Canadian tenor David Pomeroy was her Don Jose. He had passion and ringing top notes to spare, though his production was a little uneven in the lower register. Natalie Aroyan was a lovely Micaela.

After seeing his impressive Amonasro last year, I was looking forward to Michael Honeyman as Escamillo. He sang beautifully and had the appropriate swagger, though his heavy voice is probably more suited to the Italian repertoire.

It was a coup to have the two smugglers, Remendado and Dancairo, played by two young singers who could have been twins. Sam Roberts-Smith and Luke Gabbedy were both well over six foot and made the most of their roles.

Jane Ede and Victoria Lambourn, who is off to Wiesbaden shortly as winner of the German Australian Opera Grant, also did well as Frasquita and Mercedes, and the quintets with the smugglers were well balanced. Bass Adrian Tamburini was a strong Zuniga and Christopher Hillier made an impact as Morales.

The chorus work was particularly impressive and I liked the fact that when they were singing with soloists, the soloists could always be heard. Musically I found some tempos a bit fast, particularly the Act 2 quintet and the Card Scene.

The production was a mixed bag. It had a single set with enormous structures moving about for the different scenes. This generally worked well, except the third act looked like a village market rather than the smugglers lair. There was much to admire, but I found it disconcerting that chorus members were still on stage for the Sequedille when Carmen and Jose are plotting her escape from custody.

Orchestra Victoria were in fine form, and they were playing a sublime entract to Act 3 when the curtain went up to reveal Carmen and Jose arguing, quite at odds to the music. However, having Micaela standing on the edge of the bull-ring watching the final confrontation between Carmen and Jose was a nice touch.

But it is the Carmen of Nancy Fabiola Herrera that will stay in my mind.


Graham Ford

Images: Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen & the Opera Australia Chorus. Photographer: Jeff Busby.


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