Carmen (in concert)

John Wilson works his magic, and mezzo Patricia Bardon elevates all around her


John Wilson masterfully induces more than the willing suspension of disbelief. For his special projects, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra's principal conductor persuades an audience to buy tickets for an evening of, for example, Singin' in the Rain or My Fair Lady, only without the movie – without Gene Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.

The projects are special because Wilson has painstakingly reconstructed what were lost film scores, and they are successful because audiences keep coming. Although due partly to the popular appeal of the films he chooses, the success is also testimony to his lively musical direction. His audiences can forget they are not actually watching the movie and enjoying the original cast.

Now Wilson brings this modus operandi to Bizet's Carmen, and the effects are familiar. Without sets, costumes, lighting and action, Wilson still brings the opera to life, wrings the composer's colours, textures and energies from his players, and celebrates the big tunes.


He has weighty help, however, in star Irish mezzo Patricia Bardon in the title role. Many will have come specifically for the rare opportunity to hear her, and they cannot have been disappointed. She has sung the role many times, including a season-opening run last year with Los Angeles Opera directed by Placido Domingo, and recorded it for Chandos Records in 2002. It is easy to see why: she elevates all around her.

Wilson's fine supporting cast – including several young singers, notably mezzo Gemma ní Bhriain and baritone Gyula Nagy – visibly feed off the deceptively understated intensity of Bardon's crystalline and expressive singing and her magnetic presence. Bardon, who is well-matched to the role, seems to inhabit her own micro-environment, restricted to a few feet of stage, from within which even her slightest look, movement or gesture powerfully evokes the Spanish setting and calamitous story, represented on this occasion by no prop other than a stackable chair.