Carmen, King's Head, Islington, London
Peter and the Wolf, Royal Festival Hall, London

OperaUpClose veer towards greatest-hits territory while a lupine concert holds toddlers transfixed

A bouncer at the opera? It must be rough around here. And now there's a woman singing on the tables, and a fight is breaking out. Either Islington is not as genteel as it thinks, or OperaUpClose are at it again, knocking the stuffing out of the repertory. It's the latter, of course, and this time the company is picking the meat off the bones of Bizet's Carmen: that stony-faced chap on the door of the King's Head, so obliging to encumbered customers, is law-abiding Don José, as unimpressed by the table-top temptress as he is keen to keep his job.

At 45 minutes each way, this sawn-off production swings dangerously close to greatest-hits territory, Carmen herself belting through three big numbers back to back faster than you can say picador, and there isn't a bullring in sight. This Escamillo's raffish courage is tested by his jump from the prison van, five years into a 15-year stretch, his return to the thieves' kitchen heralded by a Toreador Song ringtone. The setting is here-ish and now-ish, and the job that will make the ruffians' fortunes is a raid on an incoming vessel stuffed with heroin.

This is all a long way from Seville, in short, and further still from Prosper Mérimée's novella, which itself lent only a few elements to Bizet's librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. The director, Rodula Gaitanou, and the librettist, Ben Cooper, have taken up the baton in this musical relay race, and their sprint has some wit but also misses chances: when Carmen foretells her own future, there are no cards, no horoscopes, just a spliff. Surely there's an app for that?

Escamillo, taut and tattooed, and, as played by Nicholas Dwyer in the first of two casts, jutting a chin that could cut glass, looks every inch the street-fighting man, but there are imperfections in the voice that show up at such close quarters. With only a piano and guitar for support (Elspeth Wilkes and Rosie Hopkins), Christopher Diffey as José has the same problem, but as the chippy molls Frasquita and Mercedes, Fleur de Bray and Olivia Barry have some appealing vocal moments. Christina Gill's Carmen is a diva of the Tina Turner school – feline and voluptuous, singing through her nerves, her frank stare Medusa-like. All in all, it's more whistle-stop than wondrous, but like its heroine, it takes more than a few setbacks to drag Carmen down.

No bouncers required at the Royal Festival Hall, when, on four occasions over two days, bright-eyed children and grateful elders swarmed in for an hour with Peter and the Wolf. The fresh young ensemble Aurora did not flinch at playing Prokofiev's enduring piece eight times in a row, twice at each concert, once with the customary narration, and once as a soundtrack to the Oscar-winning animated film by Suzie Templeman.

Mackenzie Crook, narrating, started promisingly, holding up an old cassette recorder with a curator's gloves, recalling that his only tape when small was Peter and the Wolf, and describing the joy of live orchestral music: "It's like sucking the juice straight from an orange, while it's still on the tree". But his was a lacklustre reading, in a version of the story not noticeably improved by Simon Armitage.

My cellist companion, eight this week, declared his preferred performance to be the second, accompanying the film. This strikes out on its own with a frozen lake, an inexplicably flightless bird and a right-on ending, with high comedy and terror in equal measure. Impressively, among the most attentive of the listeners were toddlers, transfixed. If they can take 50 minutes of classical music in their little strides now, that's the Southbank Centre's audience development all buttoned up. Fingers crossed.


'Carmen' (020-7478 0160) to 12 May

Classical choice

In a massive undertaking at the Royal Festival Hall, Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin in Bruckner's three last symphonies over three nights. Programmes also include Mozart's Piano Concertos No 24 (Mon) and 22 (Fri), the conductor as soloist, the vast 8th Symphony is played alone on Tuesday. Listen out on Thursday for details of this year's BBC Proms (13 Jul to 8 Sep).

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own