REVIEW: Fringe: carMen

May 6, 2015



Secret Opera



Set in the gay community of liberal 1920s Spain. José, the central character in this all-male reworking of Bizet’s tragic opera, is sexually confused and dominated by a strictly religious upbringing. His infatuation with handsome Carmen leads to inner turmoil and tragedy – a journey which reflects the reality still faced by many LGBT individuals today. The ‘shes’ may now be ‘hes’, but when it comes to operatic heartbreak, gender is irrelevant.

Samir Khan as the dancer who represented the sensual intoxicating Gypsy sprit of Carmen was phenomenal, all arabesques and snake hips, heavily lidded almond eyes and ruthless breathless promise and the /mainly male/ audience took a few deep breaths whenever he appeared on stage. The seduction scene was provocative and effective and the evocative lighting along with the titillating action on stage brought a highlight to this production.

Khan was often shadowing countertenor Jorge Delfos’s Carmen and this was a stylish paring, Delfos giving Carmen a hard melancholic, knowing sadness on occasion that worked well to bring out the contrast and tensions at play in this opera but perhaps not having quite the sexual allure of a naughty gypsy temptress and missing some of Carmen’s trembling worry.


See the company website

To see photo’s of all the cast, click here:

The musical accompaniment from pianist Andrew Charity was great although there were occasions when Bizet slipped into sounding like a villain was about to appear in an old silent film, the piano sounding a bit off, but it was mostly enjoyable.

The second half seemed much better, but there was one huge let down from the technical side – a monitor which was rattling and buzzing throughout the show, getting much worse in the second half and really impacting on the enjoyment of anyone sitting on the right of the stage and making the piano sound very harsh and distorted, this should have been sorted in the interval.

Robin Pietà as Jose sang his heart out and managed to convince us of his decent into the jealous confused maelstrom at the tragic heart of this piece and wrestled well with the sequined tight trousered sophisticated sneering charm of Oskar McCarthy’s Toreador Escamillo. The suggestions of some cruising and threesome sex was cleverly done and raised a smile but also confused my companion who hadn’t seen Carmen before.

Randy Smartnick’s brother/lover/friend character sang movingly but also the lack of any real involvement of this character in the progression of the plot seemed to leave him outside, as a constant observer.

This production, along with the Trousered Traviata is part of an ongoing re-imaging of opera from an LGBTQ perspective, exploring gender and sexuality thorough different ways of producing opera.

To see more here on their crowd sourcing site, click here:

My companion and I mostly enjoyed it, although the shortcomings of the venue did impact on the show, the intrusive sound from outside and the irritating rattling piano sound detracted. This one instrument approach also diminished the ability to represent the wide emotional range of the characters as Bizet originally intended. This is my third musical in as many days at this venue and i’m getting picky……  The cast managed well with the loud drumming of a heavy downpour during the crowded Plaza scene and there were a few good jokes threaded into the production too which raised a laugh as much for their un-expectedness as for their dead pan delivery.

However it left with me with a feeling of ‘Why’? Why an all-male Carmen…

With any re-imagined opera its always interesting to know what one can learn from the production, and although enjoyable as an authentic production of Bizet and interesting to have it as an all-male production, I didn’t feel I learnt anything about Spanish Gay culture in the 20’s or about the motivations of Carmen from a gay perspective. I didn’t feel the tensions of a modern LGBT identity or serious clashes and compromises that many Iberian and South American catholic Queers experience were teased out either.

Arouse is arouse is arouse as Dorothy Parker once remarked but this was one Seville experience which failed to intoxicate.


For more info or to book tickets see the fringe website here

Sung in English with piano and cast of four plus a dancer.

Until May 9 check the listings for full production & show information.

The Otherplace


St Peters.