This afternoon I attended the metropolitan opera's production of Carmen. The title role was sung by Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca, Don Jose: Roberto Alagna, Micaela:Barbara Frittoli, Escamillo: Teddy... a last second replacement from New Zealand and conducted by the Quebec superstar conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin. The opera is all about dysfunctional relationships! The music is well known and the challenge is to draw out new elements. I believe that this production did just that by focusing on the intense and insane relationship between Carmen and Don Jose. While some productions have portrayed the relationship as Carmen is a flirt and Don Jose a hopeless and flawed romantic, this production showed a much darker side to both of the main characters.
The cigarette factory girls emerge from the underground to cool off. They are colourless with grey dirty smocks. Carmen emerges and although she is dressed in black, it is clear she is different. She is sung by Garanca with passion and elan but also it is clear that Carmen probably suffers from manic depression or another mood disorder. Her famous opening song tells it all. If she loves you watch out. Mistake number one: Don't try to change people, Carmen is a bird meant to fly and be free.
She flirts with Don Jose, a soldier who is loved by the gentle Micaela. Don Jose pretends not to notice but is clearly captivated by her when he keeps a flower she gives to him. The destructive relationship begins with Don Jose who meets Carmen in a gypsy cavern after he was imprisoned for two months for releasing her from prison after she instigated a fight with another woman. She dances for him and he hears the bugle call. He starts to leave and Carmen launches into a guilt scene. "You don't love me, you respond to a bugle call...go to the bugle..so much for love...what a fool I was to love you" Clearly this relationship is not healthy.
Mistake number two: If you are not getting your way in a relationship, don't use guilt or mockery, you may be sorry. Don Jose has a drink but decides to return to the army. His officer comes in and tries to seduce Carmen, Don Jose takes a knife to him and tries to kill him. Carmen saves Don Jose and he is forced to leave with her and her gypsy friends to their mountain smuggling hideout. Mistake number three: Girls if your boyfriend is a homicidal maniac, call the police, don't save him!
It is clear that Don Jose has some serious problems with anger and jealousy as well as misplaced love. He wants to possess and control Carmen, who like a bird must be free. Don Jose's moody and jealous behaviour builds an ever stronger cage for Carmen. The two fight, one threatens to leave, Carmen mocks him as he becomes a smuggler when he remembers his mothers faith in him. This enrages Don Jose. Mistake number four : When involved with a homicidal possessive partner..DO NOT make fun of their mother. Don Jose threatens her broodingly while the gypsy cards spell doom for the couple. The audience does not need cards to see this one!
Alagana does a very convincing job of singing and acting like a possessed man, enslaved by Carmen and yet with murderous intent towards her and anyone who approaches her. Escamillo the toreador goes to the mountain hideout to proclaim his love for Carmen. Don Jose challenges him to a knife fight to the death! Once again, Carmen saves Don Jose and Escamillo. Carmen is clearly upset but seems unable or rid herself of Don Jose who is becoming dangerous.
The pious Micaela returns and lures Don Jose back to the village because his mother is dying and wants to forgive him. Madmen seem to have special relationships with their mothers and Don Jose complies. Mistake number five: When dealing with homicidal maniacs, it is best to play the mother card very early on!
Carmen begins a relationship with the toreador superstar Escamillo. She appears on his arm. Carmen's friends warn her that he, Don Jose is here lurking. Carmen says she is not afraid. When it is clear to Don Jose that Carmen no longer loves him, he kills her. Mistake number six: Listen to your friends, don't try to brazen it out!
Both Carmen and Don Jose were sung with passion and conviction as the doomed and insane lovers. Carmen had a haughty and yet almost disturbed set of mood swings. Don Jose would simply warn..dont push me, dont go there. While this is the world of opera with cardboard sets and fake blood, I could not help but think of the many relationships that are actually very much like Carmen and Don Jose. Two moths drawn to a flame of mutual destruction.
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