Ellen Kent’s Carmen


You only get to see your first opera once and it’s a make or break moment. Nick Hammond took the plunge with his eight-year-old daughter…

I thought long and hard before deciding to take Tess to see Carmen, her first experience of ‘proper’ opera. What could possibly go wrong showing an impressionable young girl a tale of lust, cruelty to animals, black magic, theft, more lust and last but not least, bloody murder? But when I spied an Ellen Kent production of Bizet’s four act masterpiece was coming to Northampton’s Derngate Theatre, I decided to go for it.

Tess has long loved the music – we often listen to it in the car and up until now, while she’s had little understanding of the plot, she’s appreciated the raw drama of this opera that is as fresh as a daisy as it heads, inexorably, to its 150th birthday. So I dug out a reasonably straightforward plot synopsis and one night while she was in the shower, I perched on the loo and gave her the lowdown.


It didn’t take long.

‘Okay, so there’s this army dude called Don Jose, who’s based in Seville. It’s hot. He has a girlfriend called Micaela, but he sees this saucy bird who works at the cigarette factory and falls for her after arresting her for fighting. She convinces him to let her free and runs off to join her vagabond pals. He’s never the same again and follows her around like a lovesick puppy. They argue a lot and she gets fed up and starts fancying the local bullfighter. Don Jose deserts his post, gets increasingly jealous and finally stabs her to death outside the bullring. The end.’

Tess looked at me through the steam of the shower and said, ‘Okaaaaay. No happy ending then.’ Certainly not.

Come curtain up and we’re seated stage right, drinks in hand. I’m ready to cover her eyes should things get, ahem, a little raunchy. I needn’t have worried. From the opening galloping notes, she is hooked and while not an ounce of the opera’s passion is forsaken, there’s nothing salacious or gratuitous. I’ll never forget the intense look of wonder on her face as the scarlet dresses and melodramatic flourishes appear before her eyes.

The Orchestra of the National Opera & Ballet Theatre of Moldova is a little subdued – I couldn’t quite see into the pit to see quite how large the contingent is – but comes into its own in the quieter moments.

Don Jose is played by a portly Vitalii Liskovetskyi, Carmen a suitably voluptuous Zarui Vardanean. But it’s Maria Tonina as little Micaela who steals the show when she’s allowed to give her voice full reign. Iuri Gisca is a wonderfully arrogant Escamillo.

But the real star of proceedings only makes a couple of fleeting appearances. He’s an enormous white Andalucian stallion called Caspian. He’s apparently an old hand at both stage and screen and he adds a thrilling display of choreographed hoofwork to an already lustrous production. Just the thing to round off the end of performance encores and to add another smile to a little girl’s face.

She loved every minute, and added astute asides and observations throughout. As we slowly made our way from the theatre, she was thoughtful. ‘I think that Carmen actually placed a gypsy spell on him,’ she said as we headed for the car. ‘That’s why he went so mad.’

I’d never thought of that. It’s good to have an opera buddy.

Ellen Kent’s production of Carmen on a UK tour until 27th April 2016. For more information including dates, venues and to book tickets visit the website.