Carmen; ENO / London Coliseum

`Here's a show which could run and run. It looks great, kind of Broadway-grubby and just as busy, though not so the detail doesn't tell'

It was never going to be a picturesque Carmen. The good doctor's aversion to operatic "tourism", to what might loosely be termed the "mantilla factor", is well known. So away with those castanets, hold the flamenco, Jonathan Miller once more has his itchy finger on the fast-forward button, depositing us somewhere in the 1930s at the scrag-end of Seville, where the old walls are crumbling, where the accents are oikish, the men a nuisance, and the cigarette girls just fed up to the back teeth.

Enter Carmen, their star turn. She's done all her numbers before, and they work every time. So who can she bait today? Draped against the factory wall, looking for all the world like she's posing for Life magazine (wonderful lighting by Tom Mannings), she's straight into her favourite Habanera - her signature number. ENO has a terrific Carmen in Louise Winter. Anyone who's been watching this singer's progress of late will know that the timing is good. She's ready, the voice is set. She certainly doesn't spare it, pulling everything she has up from the chest register, going all-out for the vocal bump-and-grind, the insinuating curl and croon of a quasi-cabaret style. She and Miller steer well clear of the pursed- lip, hip-swinging obvious: Carmen doesn't need to work at being "sexy", alluring - she is. And therein lies her feminism. Her free spirit. She'll exploit men as surely as they've always exploited her. That's the deal.

Don Jose is "different" - she says it herself. He's a challenge. Any man who busily cleans his rifle during her hit number has to be. Miller sets him up beautifully with that one action. He's too good to live, wet as the rainy season, more excited by a kiss from his hapless girlfriend Micaela (the excellent Janice Watson) when he knows it's from his mother, the kind of man who'll lose control, fling a chair halfway across Lillas Pastia's bar, but straightaway replace it. Carmen lives for the moment; Jose lives for a tomorrow that will never come. Which makes Robert Brubaker's pathetic, broken, whingeing figure all the more believable in the last scene. And Brubaker really goes for it. Vocally, he's as unstinting as his Carmen. I can live without the finesse. It's a brave performance.

So here's a show which, like Miller's Rigoletto, could run and run. It looks great (sets Peter J Davison, costumes Sue Blane), kind of Broadway- grubby and just as busy - though not so busy that the detail doesn't tell. Miller knows his craft. He's good at living canvasses. There's always something to catch the eye. Like the boy who asks the other boy for a dance in the Act 2 bar scene. That opening number really builds in the choreography (Terry John Bates), Miller cross-cutting our focus from one dirty-dancing couple to the next. And again, it takes a real director to ensure that the crucial look that flashes between Carmen and Escamillo (a booming Robert Hayward) is not lost in the crowd.

The "crowd", in the shape of that vociferous ENO Chorus (plus refreshingly raucous, street-wise kids), were in fine fettle. It was a good evening, too, for Sian Edwards, with playing from the orchestra that was splashy and feisty without lacking heart. But my mind will go back to Winter's proud Carmen, resolutely refusing to succumb to Jose's knife, still freshening her lipstick even as the last breath was leaving her body.

n In rep to 15 Nov. Booking: 0171-632 8300

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • 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.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk