Carmen - 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 Carmen was nearly withdrawn after its fifth performance, but in the end it ran for forty eight.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 operas.

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 band assembles.

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.

Pippa Hare

May 2010