The new Lismore Music Festival had a popular hit on their hands with a Dieter Kaegi directed production of Bizet’s Carmen in a wonderful location in the stable yard of the impressive Lismore Castle. The sun shone, the gardens were beautiful and the performance area and seating were under a marquee roof. The backdrop of stables with blue doors and louvered windows was a novel setting but a large drinking trough or fountain was a bit distracting. It was good to have four female Irish singers in good voice even if a five piece of violin, 8 string guitar, accordion, double bass and drums was a little disappointing. The accordion playing of Dermot Dunne filled in a lot of gaps and when you needed a guitar for the Chanson Bohemienne Le Tingles des Sistres Tintaient (The strings of the guitar were throbbing) Redmond O’Toole did the honours.

Audiences have come to accept these opera in a box, opera in a field type events and this was a good event. They also accept modern touches like bottled beer, Pepsi cola signs and a red sports car for the arrival of Escamillo and Carmen in Act 4 was a wow moment as the car revved up offstage.

Richard Crawley was a good Don José and his Floral Song was achingly beautiful to violin and accordion. Sadly he didn’t seem to have much passion at other times for Fiona Murphy’s Carmen who looked good but wasn’t shrewish enough.

Sanrda Oman as Frasquita and D. Masterson as Mercedes were vocally good but a tad too respectable for me. But I enjoyed their Card Song. Benjamin Russell was a fun Dancaire and David Adam Moore was a handsome Escamillo.

Eric Martin-Bonnet was excellent as Zunuiga and he had menace and style at all times, but it was Kim Sheehan’s clear soprano tone as Micaela that wowed the audience. Her aria in Act 3 Je Dis Que Rien Ne M’Epouvante (I Try Not to Own That I Tremble) was the highlight of the opera.

Lismore have a success on their hands and are already planning a Don Giovanni for 2011.