Return them for a credit now!
OK, it's still in 'preview', but the problems are so fundamental to the production that, unless they close it and spend a couple of weeks reworking it, it's not going to get much better.
The last London production was Simon Callow's 1991 multi-Olivier Award-winning one at the Old Vic.
Because the two lead roles are hard work, it had two lead pairings doing alternate performances. One had Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, an opera singer famous for playing the title role in Diva, the other had Sharon Benson, a more 'West End musical' singer, and it was fascinating to see the contrast.
Which leads into the problems with this one…
Problem #1: this one swaps orchestras between performances. It does this because a) the RFH has four orchestras, and clearly you have to keep at least two of them happy over a summer run, and b) the orchestra is literally what the production is built around – they're plonked centre stage and the vocalists go around them. They're a huge visual distraction.
Problem #2: they get away with a single cast because the singers are all miked. And not very well. Yes, the quality of the resulting sound is (usually) good – the problems come when two performers get too close and A's mike picks up B's singing so the audience hears B amplified twice – but it means that there are zero audible clues as to where they are: the voices are effectively a mono soundtrack. On a wide stage, with up to 41 performers on it, that's frustrating.
(And from talking to some people sitting near us, there are major problems with the sound for people with hearing disabilities – picking up the rustling of the orchestra's scores being turned over above the sound of the orchestra itself was particularly complained about.)
Problem #3: the conducting. This is subjective, but some songs are too quick and some too slow. I realised the problem in the overture, and it went downhill from there.
Problem #4: the singing. Everyone's turned the vibrato up. The main exception is one character, but only in her major dramatic solo in the second act. No coincidence that she got the biggest round of applause for it. Of course, it'd be interesting to see if she could sustain the last notes without amplification, but…
Problem #5: the acting. There are people, including in some the major parts, who can sing… but not act. Sorry. The accents are all over the place, even with the same actor. Which leads on to…
Problem #6: the staging. I defy anyone to tell me when and where it's supposed to be set. The costumes are mostly modern, but the car is old. There are signs in Spanish. There's a war on, the army carries what looks like AK-47s, but it's said several times to be in America. They can't make their mind up whether Chicago is one thousand miles away from the opening scenes or two thousand. The cameras are old, but the lights are new. Some of the dancers are doing break-dancing. The parachutes for pilots are for piston engined planes.
Problem #7: the direction. This is by Jude Kelly, for ghod's sake. She can do really good stuff – Singing in the Rain at West Yorks and the National, On the Town and a particularly good Elixir of Love at ENO, to mention a few musicals/operas.
What on earth possessed her to do 'Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum' with such a quiet orchestra and virtually inaudible drums so it becomes '… on My Tum'?!?
Or to show the boxing match, so it distracts from the final confrontation and death of Carmen?!? (Sorry if that's a spoiler to anyone, but I doubt that it is.) Combined with #1 it means that confrontation – what the entire piece builds up to – is just the third most visual thing on the stage, behind the boxing and the orchestra.
There was applause, although not much for songs like Carmen's 'Dere's a Cafe on de Corner' seduction, which where an absolute triumph for Fernandez.
But when the second biggest round of applause in the entire evening is for a jump from prone by a dancer, when for once the singers shut up, it's clearly not just me thinking so much of the rest of it stinks.
Buy the cast(s) album for the 1991 production and weep at what you missed. Or book for the Carmen coming to ENO this autumn. You could do both for the cost of a seat for this one.