Carmen - Georges Bizet - Jonathan Miller - English National Opera

On 6 March 2001, I was at the English National Opera - Coliseum for ENO's production of Bizet's Carmen (libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky, dialogue in association with Jonathan Miller who was the original director). Musically, Act I is famous for its song and dance Habanera "Love resembles a wilful bird, as full of charm, as hard to tame". In Act II the toreador Escamilo sings the famous Toreador Song and in Act III Don Jose sings the famous Flower Song holding the withered flower Carmen throws him when she jeers him for leaving her because of his devotion to duty and return to barracks!!For its first performance in Paris in 1875 it originally included spoken dialogue. However, the dialogue was replaced by recitative written by Ernest Guirand when it was first given in Vienna in 1875 (after Bizet's death). But the recitative actually weakened the proceedings and many companies today prefer to revert to Bizet's original ideas, as in the current ENO production.

The story is set in Seville and neighbouring mountains. Carmen, a gypsy girl employed in a cigarette factory fascinates Don Jose (his mother hopes he will marry the orphan Micaela). Don Jose is a sergeant of the guard, who allows Carmen to escape after she has been arrested for disorderly behaviour. Jose joins Carmen and her smuggler friends in the mountains but she soon longs to return to home. Carmen, weary of Jose, transfers her affections to Escamilo, a bullfighter. At the bullring in Seville where Escamilo has been successful, Jose makes a last appeal to Carmen. She refuses him and he stabs her.

Carmen was played by Louise Winter whose dance for Jose at Lilas Pastia's bar is very sexy but touching-up her lipstick after being stabbed is very unbelievable - more like a nice English girl playing a tart than a proud gypsy.

Peter J. Davison's set and Sue Blava's costumes evoke a sultry world of heat and dust.

Don Jose was performed by John Hudson; Escamillo by Ashley Holland ; Micaela by Susannah Glanvile; and Mercedes by Victoria Simmonds.

During the same year at the Old Vic there has been an updating of the opera, called Car Men - Matthew Bourne's spectacular and raunchy reinvention of the Carmen story for Adventures in Motion Pictures. It takes place in a used-car lot where a macho car mechanic wreck causes havoc in the American Midwest: an "auto-erotic thriller" with music arranged from Bizet. I saw this ballet and wrote about it, where you can read about it in my diary http://www. verinhaottoni. com

There seems to have been a glut of "Carmens" in 2001. In June Carmen was produced in the open air by Holland Park Opera with a mix of French singing and English dialogue. Also in June, another Carmen was seen at Wilton's Music Hall, with a mostly black South African cast. Lilas Pastila, in this case, is a huge African drag queen who shuts his pub when plastic cups shower around!!! There's a glamorous white drag act too. It's a real in-your-face production with chorus joining in at the end of the arias and eleven black women dancing energetically, shaking shoulders and things. Jose tries to throttle Carmen even before Act II is out - a slightly amateurish but eager-to-please staging.


Verinha Ottoni.


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