Fifty Nine have been working with director Sally Potter, on the video design for Carmen at the ENO. As with Attempts on Her Life, a micro-site has been created, presenting trailers and blogs which chart the creative process from start to finish. Its an interesting method of engaging with audiences, and by-passing the traditional “gate-keepers” in the press.
In this case, the show has divided critics. Writing in the Independent, Edward Seckerson enjoys the dystopian setting:
Potter’s big metaphor for her Carmen is civil liberty under threat. She and her designer use the scrim to superimpose the jerky CCTV images over actuality. Surveillance is the new reality. Carmen’s entrance is pre-empted by her grainy monochrome image blown up to fill the entire screen. She pouts knowingly for the camera, as if to say: “I know you’re watching.”
Later, Carmen angrily asserts her freedom, her right to choose her own path, in the face of Don Jose’s frenzied passion. She gets a knife in the belly for her troubles.
In The Times, Richard Morrisson is less impressed with the chosen themes… but is still complimentary about the video work:
Forbidding walls topped with razor wire; an oppressed populace spied on by CCTV; menacing cops and booted tarts; desultory, neon-lit bars; bodyhoppers and hoodies; dreary airport transit corridors – where have we seen this before? The answer is in most ENO productions since the 1980s. Potter should get out more.
What is saddest is that the staging’s most interesting aspect – real-time video (by Fifty Nine Productions) projected on to a gauze to suggest a society under constant surveillance – is abandoned after one act.
Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph also had mixed feelings about the setting, but still enjoyed the music.
Es Devlin’s sets are sparely beautiful and evocative, and Potter generates more intensity and atmosphere than Francesca Zambello did in her drearily conventional version for the Royal Opera. But I feel that Potter has been in two, or even three minds as to what she wants to do. Some scenes, including the final confrontation, catch fire. Others, such as Carmen’s arrest, remain inert.
The biggest applause was rightly reserved for Edward Gardner, conducting a vivacious orchestra in a sparkling, colourful and clean-textured account of the score which never becomes hysterical or heavy-handed.
Andrew Clements in The Guardian was unfortunately not at all impressed, and thinks that “one of the most ambiguous heroines in operas is reduced to a mere cipher”. Ouch.