Review: Carmen @ SDH
ChiÈ™inÄƒu National Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra: Carmen
St. David's Hall
Tuesday 26th March 2013
Can you ever be free, without causing obsession, pain and heartache in others?
On a cold and stark Tuesday night, I was off to see Carmen. The heat of Saint David's inside the hall made you think you were really in Spain. A larger audience was here than the previous night for Tosca. Carmen is after all, one of the most famous and loved operas of all time. I'm suspicious and haven't always seen it that way. It was a mixed bag at the first performance and critics were raging. But the audiences have always wanted to hear it and it is through them that this work has survived. Bizet would sadly, never benefit from the success of his opera. He died three months after the premiere.
But of course, we do have the famous songs and music in this. Who doesn't know the Prelude, Habanera, The Toreador Song and The Gypsy Song? Look them up. I guarantee you will recognise at least two. These are the best parts of Carmen, the familiar and stirring nature of the music. Seville, know for its oranges is also the setting for three great operas. These are The Barber Of Seville, Don Giovanni and Carmen. The heat and passion of Spain have inspired an abundance of composers. I have also wanted to plan a visit to Seville...
Carmen, a young Gypsy girl encounters Don JosÃ©, a corporal in the army. She is arrested for getting into a fight at the cigarette factory, where she works. He vows to let her go if she would love him. She agrees and he lets her go, facing prison for a short time for doing this. After this, Don JosÃ© becomes a bandit and the relationship with Carmen is complicated. He's not really one of them and has second thoughts, hoping to join the army again.
But MicaÃ«la, a possible love interest for him, begs him to come back to society along with telling him his mother is dying. He goes back, leaving things very poorly with Carmen, who is on her next fling with the Toreador, a bullfighter. Before his next bullfight, Carmen is outside the ring, expecting Don JosÃ©. He arrives, pleads with her to come back to him. She declines, there's much arguing and grabbing, amounting to her throwing the ring he gave her on the floor. When all else fails, he stabs her. All is lost.
It's that classic man trait of 'If I can't have you, nobody will'. His jealousy can't justify murder. I'm surprised WNO didn't do a revival of Carmen for their Free Spirits season. After all, the character of Madam Butterfly is anything but a free spirit. Whilst Lulu seems to take over from Carmen in glorious liberation, but with tragic consequences for both women. My plus one had agreed to give me a tarot reading just like Carmen does herself. But for her, like always in opera, looking into the future can only lead to death. Perhaps it was best my friend had to leave early and plan to do the reading again...
The production was attempting to mimic the paintings of Goya. You got the feel of the Spanish buildings and landscapes. Even a statue of the Virgin Mary was reused from Tosca. The costumes featured those beautiful Spanish gowns women wear as well as other marvellous frocks. Many large fans and much foot stomping were here, as the passion of the dance whizzed past us. I was yet again disappointed that the 'Majestic Andalusian Stallion' or donkey was featured in the production.
Ellen Kent, the director here, has been a great deal of work in saving donkeys in the region and giving them their moment in the spotlight, to feature in the operas. In the interview with the Metro, she spoke of her mother: "We used to travel miles to festivals when they were planning to sacrifice a donkey. We'd buy if off them and run - often chased by villagers. There was never a dull moment!"
The cast also kept you lured into the story. Nadezhda Stoianova made a sultry and chipper Carmen. Sorin Lupu, who had also played Cavaradossi in Tosca the night before, showed passion then menace in the role of Don JosÃ©. He may have looked slightly older than the character, but that's hardly a problem. Ecaterina Danu was a pure MicaÃ«la, who bordered on the brink of saintly. Whilst Escamillo played by Iurie Gisca felt in every way a bullfighter. His costume for the last act was gilded with deep reds. One great way for a Toreador to show off his bling.
If you prefer musicals, try out Carmen Jones, which incorporates a lot of the music from the opera turning it into jazz and blues numbers. Devised by Oscar Hammerstein III, famous for writing the lyrics for The Sound Of Music, King & I amongst others. It was highly risky, but it paid off. There are films, songs and even a dance piece entitled Car Man (which is cleverly set in a garage) that have all taken influence from the opera.
If you know and love the music, then there is no excuse not to see Carmen live, it may be a little longer than you'd expect, but the ending is quite striking and will leave you slightly exhausted and even shocked.
Related Article: Review: Tosca @ SDH