- May 2010
CARMEN by George
Bizet - Kentish Opera 19th May 2010
George Bizet's Opera Carmen
was first staged in Paris in 1875. The libretto was written by
Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, an Opéra Comique
with a tragic story and a tragic ending which was based on a
novel of the same name by Prosper Merimée and generally
believed to have been influenced by Pushkin's poem 'The Gypsies'
originally written in Russian.
At the time Carmen
was first performed, the Opéra Comique was doing so badly
that they were giving tickets away in an attempt to boost sales.
Carmen was nearly withdrawn after its fifth performance, but
in the end it ran for forty eight.
Only two months
after the first night of Carmen, which was denounced by most
of the critics, Bizet died of a heart attack and never knew what
a success his opera would subsequently become. In fact since
the end of the 1880's it has been one of the world's most performed
When the curtain
went up on Kentish Opera's recent production once again the audience
was wowed by the Costume designer, Carol Stevenson's colourful
visual images. We are projected into a square in Seville, where
bustling locals mingle with soldiers (the dragoons of Almanza
) loitering outside their guard house, the soldiers talking and
joking and a band of little boys playing and teasing each other.
I especially enjoyed their marching song, such a nice touch!
Into this 'backdrop' enters
Micaëla (Rebecca Hodgetts) who has come to look for the
corporal, Don José and leaves without finding him, but
not before we hear her gentle sweet soprano voice. A voice that
in every way proves to be a complete contrast to the rowdy, rough
girls from the cigarette factory who burst out for their break
smoking and tumbling down the steps.
At the end of this stream
of brightly dressed girls comes the gypsy girl Carmen. She arrives
showing off her tall curvaceous body and giving a 'come hither'
look to the assembled soldiers who are all poised to flirt with
her and coaxing her to tell which of them she would choose. She
sings "L'amour est comme un oiseau rebelled" Kate Symonds-Joy's
voice and her body language are perfect for the part, bringing
out Carmen's haughtiness. She singles out Don José who
has taken little interest in her and plucks a little bunch of
cassia from her bosom and throws it to him. Little
did she realise that with this gesture her ultimate fate was
sealed. Little did Don José realise that Carmen would
supplant his affections for Micaëla and that his fiery love
for the gypsy girl would end in her death at his own hand.
Later after Carmen
has slashed the face of one of the women with a knife, she is
guarded by Don José and in order to escape, she seduces
him. ("Pres des ramparts de Seville") Carmen holds
up her bound wrists to Don José who unties them, but leaves
a loose rope around her wrists . "Carmen, you have bewitched
me" cries Don José, but Carmen deftly pulls her hands
from the rope and dashes away.
The sound of "Long
live the Toreo!" heralds the arrival of Escamillo, a handsome
and debonair toreador who introduces himself by singing the famous
"couplets de Toreador" Mark Saberton's rich rich baritone
voice reaches the ears of Carmen who is struck by his panache
and glamour and he too is impressed by her.
After much coaxing
by Carmen, Don José is persuaded to join the band of smugglers
and as Don José has foolishly drawn his sabre to a superior
officer he realises that now he has no choice but reluctantly
to join the band, fearing
a worse fate should he return to his regiment. The scene shifts
to a wild and deserted rocky place in the mountains where the
Carmen grows tired
of Don José and goes to read cards with her friends, only
to find hers foretell death for her and Don José. "En
vain pour éviter les réponses amères"
Micaela arrives and vows
to get Don Josè to come back to her "Je dis que rien
m'épouvante", unsuccessfully of course. The jealous
Don José encounters Escamillo and challenges him to a
fight, but Don José finds himself at the mercy of his
rival who lets him go.
It is the day of
the bull fight and once again the square is crowded with gypsies,
merchants and excited children. Having declared their love for
each other, Escamillo leaves Carmen and goes into the fight.
Carmen takes no heed of her friend Frasquita's warning that the
love-sick Don José is nearby. He arrives and desperately
begs Carmen to go back to him, but she scornfully throws back
his ring. This is too much for Don José and he stabs Carmen
in the back.("Eh bien damnée" She dies to the
strains of the Toreador song and a heartbroken Don José
sings "Ah Carmen! Ma Carmen adoree!"
On the music side, what a joy it was to listen to Mark Fitz-Gerald's
excellent orchestra: such sensitive playing, yet never out-doing
the singers on stage and special praise is due to the flautist.