Many missives arrive in the Things To Do in Manchester inbox every day, some more welcome than others. Many foreign dignitaries, each of whom seems to have got themselves into some kind of unfortunate and unspecified trouble, write to me with the kind offer of depositing several million pounds into my bank account if I will only give them the number; an equal amount of messages offer me products that will enlarge parts of my anatomy I wasn't even aware I had.
And yet, amongst all this nonsense, a number of shiny, gorgeous events jostle for attention, none more enticingly than the recent email from Opera North. Would I like to go along and see their controversial production of Carmen at The Lowry? Well, yes, obviously. Would I like wine and food first, followed by a backstage tour and a chat with the cast? Well, durrrrr, of course. And would I like special permission to tweet my opinions of the production throughout? Well, um, *guilty face* YES...but is that allowed?
(And in case you are wondering, yes, it was - but only by the invited tweeters/bloggers. We were safely stowed in one of the boxes for our own protection, although the glares and tuts from fellow audience members were still both visible and audible from our holding pen as we merrily tweeted away - no mean feat whilst simultaneously trying to listen to French singing and follow English subtitles on a small screen.)
To be honest, Opera North are pretty forward-thinking in just about every way - if the thought of opera conjures up a vision of fusty old men with monocles and elderly ladies with rock-hard helmets of slightly blue permed hair then Opera North might just be for you (unless of course, you enjoyed this vision, or feature in it yourself, in which case they probably aren't.)
Let me give you an example. Opera North have already been in trouble with this current touring production of Carmen, because it contained *lowers voice* bare breasts and buttocks. The buttocks remain, but in a splendid example of selective British horror over body parts, the boobs are now covered, thanks to the balanced, mature approach taken by papers such as (yup, you guessed it) The Daily Mail, which thoughtfully branded it "lewd" in February after "shocked" audiences in Leeds "deemed it too raunchy". Opera North have now added a 12+ age recommendation to their marketing, so that any parents who fear that their offspring will enjoy a night of sex, passion, violence and death but might be upset at seeing a quick flash of boob will now be fore-warned.
Anyway, onto the production itself. Bizet's tale of lust and jealousy in steamy Spain has been shocking audiences ever since its first performance in Paris in 1875; the story, such as it is, revolves around sex-pot Carmen and her romantic entanglements, as two very different men vie for her affections. Director Daniel Kramer has taken a modern approach to the story, setting the action in the deep South of 1980s America: the first act, where, to use a technical operatic term, it "all kicks off" is set outside a factory, with a chorus of sun-worshippers curiously observing the goings-on from their deckchairs; the brilliant second act involves a trailer-trash caravan park, a rocking dolphin and a scary doll hanging in a tree - you'll have to trust me here that words are incapable of describing the effectiveness of this surreal, nightmarish re-imagining; suffice to say the gentleman doing MJ-moves on top of the caravan was a particular hit.
All of this would mean nothing, of course, if the singing wasn't any good; luckily this aspect was flawless, with particular mention of Elizabeth Atherton as Micaela - she has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. Even if you've never seen any kind of opera at all, you would still recognise most of the music from Carmen (I lured Mr Liz along with the promise that this was the one with all the hits, and it really is), although you many find yourself tempted to sing "yum yum yum yum, yum, yum yum yum YUM yum" (not me, obviously - too highbrow.)
Carmen has now finished her Manchester visit and is hitching up her skirts and moving south to seduce Nottingham next, but Opera North promise to be back in November with three new productions, including Madame Butterfly. We can only wait with much anticipation to see what The Mail will get its knickers in a twist about over that one...