Carmen, Royal Opera House, London

3.00

A bloodless tale of love and lust

How appropriate that the diamond manufacturers De Beers should have been associated with the opening night of the Royal Opera's 60th anniversary production of Bizet's Carmen. Expensive and well-buffed might be one way of describing it; cool and collected might be another.

Mid-19th century Seville (as realised by designer Tanya McCallin) is all blue skies, terracotta and parasols. A cast of thousands politely promenade, pretending to be hot but fooling no one; well-drilled street urchins worry well-drilled soldiers; even the livestock - the obligatory donkey and the odd chicken - looks well-groomed. And when the cigarette girls eventually spill, or rather slink, from their factory, smoke wafting romantically through the open gates, you're thinking: "This isn't a lunch break, this is a fashion shoot." Sweatshop chic - how this season's working girls are dressing down.

The point is that if you are looking for even a smidgen of social realism, you won't find it here. Francesca Zambello's well-choreographed stage pictures are strictly in the old "look, isn't it pretty?" travelogue mould. Bags of detail, but all of it - the earthiness, the ethnicity, the sex - well within operatic comfort zones. If ever a production strove to reaffirm that Bizet and his librettists knew nothing about Spain, then this is it. Even Antonio Pappano and his orchestra - for all their vitality, beauty and sheen - seemed shy of the brashness.

No one, least of all me, would deny Carmen its romantic spin, but at the heart of the drama lies blood, sweat and tears, and if you cannot at least suggest that its main protagonists are driven by irresistible passions then, frankly, you are lost. And lost was how Zambello's principals seemed as they gamely competed with the grandiose, every-scene-an-eyeful presentation. They seemed somehow diminished by it.

Carmen herself - Anna Caterina Antonacci - was well-schooled. Vocally, she worked the nasal French vowels and rasping chest notes to good effect; she toyed just enough with the vocal lines to make them sound tantalising. But rebellious, free-spirited, a gypsy? Not a bit of it. It took all of two seconds to distinguish her from the all-clapping, all-stamping dancers in Lillas Pastia's tavern. But in every other respect this Carmen did not stand out from the crowd. She was, if you like, a symptom of the production - polished, but never dangerous. Plus I missed the sultry mezzo colours in her voice. That's a risk you take when casting a soprano in the role.

An even bigger risk was the casting of the gifted German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Don José. But it was a gamble that paid off big-time. Yes, you could argue that this elegant singer lacks the vocal heft for the soul-baring show-downs of Acts III and IV, but in so doing you must also remember that Don José is a emotional weakling, a lovesick mummy's boy destroyed by his own misplaced infatuations. Kaufmann conveyed that absolutely, with phrase upon melting phrase pointing to the soft-centred romantic beneath the toy soldier's uniform. But there was a core of strength, too, and in his convincingly low-key reading of the final scene he was all the more dangerous for being so completely and utterly the little boy lost. What a talent this young singer is.

There was conspicuous talent, too, in the Frasquita of Elena Xanthoudakis and the Mercédès of Viktoria Vizin, and a tremulous vulnerability in the Micaëla of Norah Amsellem. The voice does nothing for me, personally, but you have to admire the technique that produces such a rush of confidence through to the top B of her big aria.

So what of the dashing toreador Escamillo, the man most likely to win the gypsy Carmen's heart? Well, if you are thinking dream casting, think no further than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. And yet even he, a bass-baritone, seemed challenged by the low-lying thrust of his sing-along aria. But he did arrive on a horse. Need I say more?

In rep to 3 February (020-7304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick