Wednesday, 9 June 2010

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle : Carmen in Trafalgar Square

You know the traffic's bad when your bus driver advises you to get off and walk to the next stop. I blame the approximately four billion black cabs squatting in the road between Cannon Street and City Thameslink like fat rich old men in a public toilet cubicle. And so I missed the introductory sing-a-long of the Toreador song with self-described "animateur, presenter and populariser of choral singing" Gareth Malone. And I missed the rousing om-pom-pom overture with its crashing cymbals and its diddly-diddly-dee violins. But I did catch at least the vast majority of the 'summer screen' presentation of Georges Bizet's Carmen, broadcast live to Trafalgar Square from the Royal Opera House yesterday evening, even as it struggled to compete for the attention of my ears with the hubbub of post-rush hour congestion, the bells of St Martin in the Fields, the walkie-talkies of various event wardens, and the odd passing emergency services vehicle. No doubt it would have met with the approval of Christian Wolff, who liked to perform his piano pieces in his New York apartment with the windows open to the downtown traffic.

For my taste, Christina Rice was a little too broad and brassy in the title role. This is all very well of course, but to go all out with the guttural blousiness is to miss the contradictory nature of the character, the sweetness which honeys Carmen's, ahem, earthy sensuality into something genuinely seductive. The first act Habanera in particular sounded a little bit Mrs Mills, lacking the supple, lightness of touch which had so appealed to Nietzsche. It was a joy, nonetheless, to see so many people, of all ages, several thousand in London alone, watching with the same "tender devotion" that Nietzsche still felt after attending twenty performances.

"They could've got a big screen," went one old chap, struggling to read the subtitles from the side of the square. "Well, it is quite big, if you get close to it," averred his partner. He had a point though, large though the screen may have been before it was airlifted from yr local picture palace, it couldn't help but feel a bit dwarfed by the surroundings out in the broad daylight. But as the curtain came up for the final act, so the sun went down and the city and (so it seemed) its noises receded magically behind its inky cloak, and all the street lamps of WC2 were as so many Chinese lanterns, floating on a wave of thick romantic harmony. It was all, in the end, quite bewitching.