Review: Carmen **

At Leeds Grand Theatre

The reign of Spain is on the wane in American director Daniel Kramer's embarrassingly contrived production of Bizet's Carmen.

He shifts the setting from 1820s Seville to 1960s Ohio, provides the pit-bullfighter Escamillo with a dog and gives Carmen plastic beakers for castanets. Assorted oddities populate the stage in the first act, including a sun-lounging Mrs Thatcher lookalike. A no-smoking symbol is paraded as the cigarette factory workers pour out. Carmen defies it. Yes, it's that subtle.

A diner-caravan does duty as Lillas Pastia's inn where a jukebox pumps music for the party and a karaoke microphone encourages Carmen to sing that bit louder.

While this jumble of ideas contributes colour, noise and spurious action, it does the drama and music few favours.

Does the progress of Don Jose from dorkish, mother's boy to jealous killer need to be so coarse? Does Anne Sophie Dupreis' Micaela have to be a monochrone vamp? Must the overture be drowned by yelling state-trooper footballers?

This overworked production raises more questions than it chooses to answer and not even the orchestra under Andreas Delfs sounds fully inspired.

Heather Shipp is a strong Carmen, with a slight gear-change between the impressive low and high registers, Peter Auty's Don Jos is drawn so crudely that even his attractive tenor suffers and the Lithuanian Kostas Smoriginas provides a bold voiced Escamillo – all swagger and posture. Rather like the production as a whole.