Carmen, Opéra Comique in three acts, music composed by Georges Bizet, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy after Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella Carmen, revival of the 2018 Royal Opera Production, directed by Barrie Kosky, conducted by Julia Jones, Royal Opera, Friday 5th July 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones
“Don’t leave me Carmen”, implores Don José, as he begs her to follow him and to start a new life together. In director Barrie Kosky’s production of Carmen, the rope (subsequently the dress train) is like an umbilical cord that fatally connects the doomed lovers. They seemingly cannot survive without each other. And Don José embodies the dominant ideology of sexual guilt and subservience to the mother. As Sarah Lenton observes, his character “…is more straightjacketed than naive, and his obsessive tendencies are… hinted at in his fixation with his mother” (‘Out of Character’, Official Programme). Christopher Wintle, in What Opera Means, goes even further, claiming that Carmen chooses Don José because of a death wish.
What constitutes femininity and masculinity? Kosky, throughout, accentuates gender differences. We see men, stage right, ogling factory girls, who are narcissistically cooling themselves and smoking, stage left. Carmen is ultimately doomed because she will not abide by the rules of this bifurcated, patriarchal society. She represents untrammelled female sexuality. “Love’s a gypsy”, she proclaims and so is she. “Free was she born and free she will die”. In Mérimée’s novella, Don José recalls that Carmen “walked, swaying her hips like a filly from a Cordoba stud farm”. And the matador Escamillo (Luca Pisaroni), likewise, represents another sexual stereotype drawn from what Richard Langham Smith calls the “growing hispanomania” of the 1870’s (‘Carmen’s Rocky Road to Success’, Official Programme).
In an interview to coincide with the 2018 production of Carmen, conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson maintained that “can you dance?” is as important a question as “can you sing and act?” (see ‘Carmen Review – Dance of Death’, Quarterly Review, December 4, 2018). And the remarkable dance troupe, choreographed by Madeline Ferricks-Rosevear, stole the show once again.
Barrie Kosky is evidently an admirer of Kabuki, judging by the make-up and the masks. His device of an audience being watched by an audience was also telling. Ailyn Pérez (Micaëla) is a remarkable singer and she pulled out all the stops in the aria “Moi, je viens te chercher”. Yet there were still some empty seats on this occasion. Perhaps this production, which first appeared at Frankfurt Opera in 2016, is just too challenging and thought provoking for the average audience.
Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of QR