Home » London Theatre Reviews » Ellen Kent: Carmen at Theatre Royal Brighton | Review

Ellen Kent: Carmen at Theatre Royal Brighton | Review

The Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Kyiv is coming to the end of its Spring 2024 tour of the UK and Ireland, visiting places that rarely get an opportunity to see live opera, under the direction of Ellen Kent, who I was lucky enough to chat to during the first interval. Now in her mid-70s (so she says but I hope she won’t be offended if I say she seems at least 30 years younger, as she has so much verve and energy) she has been producing tours of Ukrainian companies for over twenty years. Diminutive in stature and utterly charming, she “dropped in” on the Theatre Royal Brighton just to ensure that everyone in the company was happy and that standards were being maintained. She said that she really enjoyed arranging the tours, although thought she might be getting too old, but “there might still be one more in me“! A fascinating person with an even more fascinating life, first in India, then Norfolk, to whom I could have happily conversed with for much longer!

Carmen: Outside the Bullring
Carmen: Outside the Bullring.

Her production of Bizet’s Carmen is solidly traditional, and therefore ideal for opera “newbies”, especially as there are surtitles in English, enabling everyone to understand what is happening, unless you happen to have purchased seats in the rear half of the stalls at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, where they are hidden by the ‘shelf’ of the dress circle!

Natalia Metvieieva was very impressive in the title role. Not only did she have an expressive mezzo, she is a true singing-actor, able to convince in the role, and show us the motivation behind her physicality. She looked like Carmen – very sultry – and lifted the production whenever she was singing.

Carmen’s friends, Mercedes and Frasquita, Marharyta Bohachova and Anastasiia Blokha, also impressed, the third act “card” trio being one of the highlights of the evening.

All the male singers exhibited fine voices, in particular Davit Sumbadze as Don Jose, the corporal seduced by Carmen, whose high notes seemed effortless, and Iurie Gisca as the toreador, Escamillo, the possessor of a rich flowing baritone.

The smuggler Dancairo (Vitalii Cebotari) exhibited a pleasing sound as well as convincing acting skills and the tenor Nicolae Cebanu as Remendado was suitably youthful. These two singers, plus the three ladies mentioned provided the Act Two centrepiece, the horrendously difficult quintet, which was performed with aplomb and justly applauded not only by the capacity audience, but also by the conductor, Vasyl Vasylenko, who marshalled his forces beautifully clearly but with the minimum of effort: a master class in conducting an opera, especially as the excellent orchestra, with particularly impressive brass and bassoons, was almost completely hidden three metres below stage level and Vasylenko had to ensure that those on stage could also see his beat!

Soprano Alyona Kistenyova was Micaela, Don Jose’s former girlfriend and Valeriu Cojocaru a particularly strong Lieutenant Zuniga.

Ellen Kent told me that each of the three operas in this Spring’s tour is double cast, ensuring that singers are well-rested between performances!

The twenty-strong young chorus (chorus mistress Kateryna Kondratenko-Savienkova) was superb – crystal clear French diction and always in role, but never over-acting! They were joined by dancers, supernumeraries and a non-singing children’s chorus to provide a colourful spectacle.

The massive single set (designer not credited) “evoking the stunning architecture of Seville and its main square” also had to serve as the backdrop to Lillas Pastia’s bar and the smugglers’ hideout in the mountains, which may have confused those who did not know the opera, which, to Ellen Kent’s credit, was probably many of the audience! Witty surtitles in English greatly aided understanding and one could hear that they were appreciated by the audience laughter for the occasional amusing lines! The stage director, ensuring that the production had great detail whilst never appearing tired or jaded was Victor Donos and the effective lighting was by Valeriu Cucarschi.

As an introduction to opera, performed to a very high standard, the Ukrainian Opera and Ballet Kyiv is very highly recommended – and most enjoyable.

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Senbla presents Opera International’s award-winning Ellen Kent production featuring the Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv with international soloists, a highly-praised chorus, and full orchestra.

Fri 3 May 2024
Shows Booking Now at Theatre Royal Brighton


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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1 thought on “Ellen Kent: Carmen at Theatre Royal Brighton | Review”

  1. I think meeting Ellen Kent might have clouded your judgement as Carmen lacked Spanish atmosphere and lighting failed to create enough of threatening atmosphere and foreboding. Worse for me was the high amplification – u heard of in opera and unnecessary in small theatre. This was horrendous in last night’s Butterfly which was badly cast – Pinkerton should be tall and handsome and both he and butterfly had rasping unemotional voices. So bad we left at Interval. Whole Theatre evacuated soon after and audience sent home. Very disappointing as last year’s was amazing. What you say about first time newbies true but they knew no better – I do!

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