IT is almost standard theatrical practice to relocate classic plays and operas in time or place, or both. The late, great Antony Sher played Macbeth as a late-20th-century Balkan warlord, to take one notable example.

It is in that vein that director John Fulljames has shifted Bizet’s famous opera Carmen from early-19th century Spain to the closing years of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

From an early scene of Scottish Opera’s new production, in which the young countrywoman Micaëla has to contend with the unwanted attentions of a group of contemptible soldiers, it is clear that this story (libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, after the novella by Prosper Mérimée) is a good fit for the final days of fascism in the Spanish state.

This temporal reinvention isn’t the director’s only innovation. As the orchestra strikes up the first notes of Bizet’s famous score, we hear the voice of the soldier José confess to the murder of Carmen, the seductive “gypsy” of the title.

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The piece opens in a spacious police office, where a detective (played, in a non-singing role, by the fine Scottish actor Carmen Pieraccini) is interrogating the distraught and guilty José. In this way, the opera becomes a sort of Columbo-meets-Taggart police procedural.

As Pieraccini’s working-class cop interrogates the killer, her office becomes the setting for the telling of Meilhac and Halévy’s story as an immense, tragic flashback. The panels of the back wall of the office rise, fall and shift ingeniously to accommodate the developing action. They also function as a screen onto which projection designer Will Duke plays the live and recorded video work that does much of the production’s narrative legwork.

The National: Alok Kumar (Don José) and Carmen Pieraccini (Investigator) in CarmenAlok Kumar (Don José) and Carmen Pieraccini (Investigator) in Carmen (Image: James Glossop)

In one moment the wall rises to allow the female workforce of a Seville factory to flood the stage. In another a bird’s eye view camera enables us to watch the detective prising crucial pieces of evidence from the hands of the remorseful José.

Clever though this video work is, one can’t help but feel that Fulljames’s production relies on it too heavily. Ultimately, as the projected imagery outstays its welcome, the set design appears not only minimalist, but bordering on naked.

This is a tremendous pity, as this is an otherwise excellent staging of one of the great works of the operatic canon.

The Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringytė is a memorable Carmen. As scornful and sarcastic as she is sensual and seductive, her voice fills the auditorium with, by turns, voluptuous temptation and merciless contempt.

Indian-born tenor Alok Kumar is equally impressive as an energetically desperate José, while New Zealand baritone Phillip Rhodes embodies perfectly the strutting narcissism of the toreador Escamillo.

On opening night, the wonderful South Korean soprano Hye-Youn Lee (playing the heartbroken Micaëla) all but took the roof off the theatre with the acclaim for her beautifully anguished singing of her character’s great aria.

A strong and affecting Carmen, then (flawed design concept notwithstanding).

At Theatre Royal, Glasgow until May 20, then touring Scotland until June 17.