12 February 2018 at 1.00pm | 6 Comments
A quick search online for images of Carmen returns lots of red flamenco dresses and women with long black hair. For many, Carmen is a fiery Spanish woman whose fickle passion leaves broken men in her wake.
In this telling of the story, Carmen is a still a defiantly free spirit, who refuses to be cowed or silenced, but this production takes us from Carmen-the-opera to Carmen-the-cabaret, in a far-from-traditional piece of theatre.
This new production of Carmen has distinctively-staged musical numbers, energetic dance routines and arresting theatrical visuals, offering a new perspective on this enduringly popular classic. The central character is celebrated as a performer constantly reinventing herself, not least through an array of striking costumes. There are hints of inter-War European cabaret in the designs and in Carmen's wit and sexual confidence. The opera originally used spoken dialogue to tell the story between musical numbers; this is replaced with an unseen narrator, giving a fresh voice to Carmen herself.
Director Barrie Kosky is known for his inventive opera stagings – his Castor and Pollux at ENO and Saul at Glyndebourne both won awards, and he recently received acclaim for his highly original production of Shostakovich’s The Nose at the Royal Opera House.
The opera’s popularity owes much to Bizet’s music, which is packed with memorable melodies – the well-known Habanera (Carmen’s signature aria), the Toreador Song and the opera’s overture.
But there’s much more to enjoy. Because Bizet died so soon after the premiere, we have no definitive version of the opera. This version uses musical material written by Bizet for the score but not usually heard. This is the first time some of this music has ever been performed in London.
Much of Bizet’s score for Carmen has a Hispanic flavour, from the Spanish-inspired melody of Carmen’s Habanera to the dance rhythms threaded through the score. Bizet’s gift for writing catchy tunes reaches its peak in the flamboyance and masculinity of Escamillo’s Toreador Song, one of the most instantly recognizable arias in all classical music.
Carmen is a woman with her own ideas about what her life should be. She warns men to beware of falling in love with her. Don José ignores her warning, and gives up his job, reputation and girlfriend to be with her. Growing bored of Don José and his obsessive nature, Carmen moves on to a very different type of man, the celebrity toreador Escamillo. But she does not anticipate the jealous passion that she will unleash in Don José.
Bizet took the plot of Carmen from the novella of the same name by the French writer Prosper Mérimée, who claimed that he had been inspired by a true story (some of the narration that Kosky has created for this production comes from Mérimée). It was a bold topic for the 1875 audience, drawing mixed reactions from both the press and the public. Bizet died just 3 months after the premiere and so never knew how popular the opera would come to be. In fact, Carmen is the second most performed opera in The Royal Opera’s repertory and has been consistently loved throughout the world since the 1880s.
Recommended if you like…
If you liked Carmen, why not try…
Mozart’s Don Giovanni, whose male protagonist shares Carmen’s independence and seductiveness; Verdi’s brilliantly witty and energetic Falstaff or Gounod’s Faust, another French opera whose riveting story inspired a host of glorious melodies.
Carmen runs until 16 March 2018. Tickets are still available.
Carmen will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on 6 March 2018.
And staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Yvonne and Bjarne Rieber, Alan Howard, Trifon and Despina Natsis, The ROH Young Philanthropists, and the Friends of Covent Garden.