Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Classical "Carmen"

Bizet's masterpiece gets a modernized setting at the Minnesota Opera

Many may disagree with this, but I think opera is the most international of all art forms. Nowhere else will you find a story about Spain, told in French, that is then subtitled in English for a live audience. There are all sorts of artistic and athletic cross pollination that can be found in our post-internet 'flattened' world, but opera remains one of the few art forms that people flock to view in its original language and context, and that was intended to be multilingual and cultural from the outset.
Carmen being arrested; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
The Minnesota opera has modernized the setting for this Carmen, from its original fin de siecle oeuvre to a bullfight in the age immediately after fearsome dictator Francisco Franco's death. The setting works, in particular the gorgeous light work with ominous and sinuous shadowing; it takes a while to notice, but once you do it's mesmerizing.
Carmen smoking in her mountain hideout; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
As one of the most famous operas, I won't bother retelling the doomed love story; you can find all you need to know in the photo montage throughout this article. It was interesting, however, to think about how much the way we define things changes our perception of it. For example, operas like Carmen are most often viewed as tragedies, in which a woman 'loses her morality' and pays the price for it. I believe we can just as easily name Carmen a feminist triumph, in which a woman defies authority and social mores to live the life best for her, and eventually becomes the victim of unflinching societal standards. It's an interesting thought, and a question that I foresee growing as audiences and casts become more diverse and settings become increasingly modernized.
Carmen and her toreador; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
Nora Sourouzian is lovely as Carmen, with a deceptively sinuous voice that pulls you through the show, particularly through the infamous Habanera that has been covered by everyone from ad execs to Stromae. Her cast mates keep up, especially her lovers Morales (Gerard Michael D’Emilio) and toreador Escamillo (Kyle Ketelsen). Standout voice of the production goes to the gorgeous tones of Marita K. Sølberg, who plays jilted lover Micaela.
Morales pleads for Carmen to return to him; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
The ensemble cast is a little looser, particularly the children. I found myself wishing for a little more of the precision of an Osmo Vanska or Peter Rothstein here; the production is good, but could reach great with just a little more crispness in execution. It's also extremely long; there are three intermissions, so be prepared for an all-night experience. Still, this is Bizet, and it's impossible not to like this most gorgeous, gorgeous of operas. Habanera is just as well known as the Torreador bit, or any of the orchestration throughout the piece (if you'd like a closer explanation of why Carmen is such a masterpiece, check out this excellent video from the Minnestoa Opera).
Morales kills Carmen; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
Carmen runs through May 10, and ticket sales have already broken every presale record of the Minnesota Opera. If you want to go, get your tickets NOW; you can find more information by clicking on this link.