Carmen la Cubana ★★★★
By Peter May
Carmen has been reinvented many times in different settings. It is a timeless story of a beautiful and free spirited cigarette girl who seduces a soldier but cannot commit to him. Carmen La Cubana is being billed as Cuba’s first ever musical and it is under the direction of Christopher Renshaw, so yet another new layer has been added to Carmen’s reinvention.
This new opera is based on Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, and features George Bizet’s classic score, but relocates the story to Cuba in the late fifties at the beginning of the Cuban revolution. Soldier José is engaged, but becomes captivated by Carmen. They run away to Havana together, but Carmen soon tires of him when she meets famous boxer El Niño whose power and influence she cannot resist.
Luna Manzares who plays Carmen is perfectly cast as the fiery vixen. From her first entrance, silhouetted and surrounded by a Smokey haze, she is bathed in intrigue. Dressed all in red, wearing a cheeky smile she had the men in the palm of her hand and much of the audience too.
Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire, whose new orchestrations breath vividness and urgency into every note, reinvents the excellent score. The famous Habanera is a particular highlight. Sultry yet playful, it immediately establishes Carmen’s breezy attitude to love and life disguises a cold domineering core.
The vast two-tier set is detailed and impressive displaying a crumbling backdrop of brightly coloured walls that fills the stage. It shows a Cuba crackling at its edges amid the kindling of a revolution is opulent in its own way, and feels rich and lived in. The dialogue is all in Spanish but for those who do not speak it, there are numerous subtitled screens dotted around to keep you informed what is happening on stage.
It is a high energy packed performance by a terrific cast and the perfect summer sizzler of a show you should go and check out.
Until 18 August, Saddler’s Wells