CARMEN is an opera written by French composer Georges Bizet which, in its original form, spans a full four acts.

London-based company Opera Up Close, produces this stripped-back, slimline version perfect for opera newbies.

Originally set in Seville around the year 1830, Carmen is brought firmly into the modern world.

Director Robin Norton-Hale abandons the towering sets, full orchestra and enormous cast and gives us metal scaffolds, a quartet of musicians and a cast of nine.

Not giving too much away, the opera tells the story of Don José, tempted away by the seductress Carmen from his duty as a soldier and from his lover Micaëla. The tale tracks the downfall of José to the resulting murderous conclusion.

The title character is played powerfully by Flora McIntosh who is every bit the strong-willed yet vulnerable woman. Anthony Flaum, as Don José, is convincing as the spurned lover whose fall towards violence is, at times, disturbing to watch. Carmen’s final confrontation with José is one of the most horrifying and electrifying scenes I have ever witnessed on the stage.

The cast are, without exception, excellent singers and actors. Every word of Norton-Hale’s translated libretto rings clear around the Playhouse’s auditorium.

The sound is all the more impressive given that no amplification is used. I hugely enjoyed the pure soprano voice of Louisa Tee at the beginning of the third act.

If I had to make any negative criticism, I would say that the cast ad-libbing between sections of the libretto is, on occasions, awkward. I understand that in a full production, these gaps are to allow the entrance and exit of the chorus, but I just wonder if reductions to the score could have shortened these moments?

Lovers of Bizet’s opera might be concerned about how the incredible music fares when performed by an orchestra of only four members.

While the score has certainly been reduced, it barely suffers. In fact, the power and intensity of some of the singing came through stronger and wasn’t overwhelmed by the accompaniment.

Thank you to Opera Up Close for a thrilling and uplifting evening.

Now I just need to get those tunes out of my head!