With 80 opera singers, 45 live musicians and Sydney Harbour with its magnificent backdrop of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and illuminated city buildings, Opera Australia’s Carmen is currently enthralling audiences each evening.  Seated outdoors in the specially constructed tiered grandstand, built on the shores of Sydney Harbour, alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, this experience is like no other visit to the opera.

This is the third time I have seen Bizet’s Carmen, but this outdoor performance on the purpose built stage on Sydney Harbour, resembling a blood stained bullfighting ring, is certainly the most exciting.  The set features a neon lit outline of a bull as well as the giant 9 metre high red letters, spelling out CARMEN.  Two cranes lift props on and off the stage during the performance, but a highlight of the evening is watching enthralled as one of the cranes lowers the resplendent Toreador, Escamillo, onto the steeply raked stage from a great height.

Carmen is sung in French, with English subtitles projected onto the wall under the stage.

Two casts alternate at the performances, with Rinat Shaham and Milijana Nikolic starring as Carmen.

The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, sits under the stage in an orchestra pit which houses 45 musicians at each performance.

The colourful costumes and other special production surprises add to the wow factor that the audience will experience.  Even those who are not opera devotees should enjoy this performance.

I was worried during the evening that one of cast members would fall off the stage into the water, as they seemed to get so close to the edge, but this never happened.

This exciting, not to be missed production of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Carmen will finish its all too short season on Sunday, 14 April 2013.   Sandra Tiltman



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