The 2018 Opera Festival was inaugurated on Friday 22nd June by Carmen, the masterpiece by Georges Bizet with a new production by the famous Argentinean director Hugo de Ana, responsible for its direction, scenery and costumes. De Ana sets his Carmen a century later than the libretto, in the 1930’s, an important historical period to emphasize the protagonist’s incessant search for her independence and freedom, which will lead her, as a torero in the Plaza de Toros, to face, until her death, male arrogance and a society hostile to the fact that she is a gypsy and therefore different.
Conductor Francesco Ivan Ciampa
Direction, set design and costume Hugo de Ana
Coreography Leda Lojodice
Lighting design Paolo Mazzon
Projection design Sergio Metalli
A.LI.VE. Treble voice Chorus conducted by Paolo Facincani
Chorus Master Vito Lombardi
Ballet Coordinator Gaetano Petrosino
Director of Stage Design Michele Olcese
Arena di Verona New Stage Design
Arena di Verona Orchestra, Chorus, Corps de Ballet and Technical Team
1st act 50' - interval - 2nd act 43' - interval – 3rd act and 4th act 72’
Spectators are kindly requested to arrive early enough to facilitate security checks.
by Hugo de Ana
The story of Carmen, told in music by Georges Bizet, has very view points in common with the environment, the atmosphere and the emotions that are described in the novel that Mérimée wrote in 1845 and by which librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy were inspired.
In fact, in that period, operas whose protagonists were gypsies, thieves, cigar makers and smugglers were not appreciated by the audiences of the Parisian opera theatres. The visceral, carnal Spain described by Mérimée is softened by the “colour” of the music, by bright dances and choruses.
To make the story even more suited to opera performance, the character of Micaela was even introduced, who, with her positive aspect, offers a counterpart to the decision and violence of Carmen.
Carmen’s music is full of contrasts. Tchaikovsky himself asserted: “I do not know anything else that better represents the graceful element, le joli”, but he too immediately also acknowledged the other side of the Bizet masterpiece, its authentic dramatic power: the portrait of Don José, who was full of complexes, his final entreaties to Carmen, the gloomy fortune-telling terzet, the agitated finale… the presage even appears in light-hearted moments.
Mérimée, in his novella, describes Carmen as a demoniac miserable gypsy and, listening carefully to Bizet, perhaps we manage to glimpse this protagonist. I want to begin this production of the opera starting from this point.
“Carmen”, the woman who fights to assert her freedom, equality and rights. What period in time is more suited to telling the gypsy’s story than that of the Spanish civil war, during the 1930s, a war that saw, in the women’s struggle, a true social event.
From that moment, women’s image acquired a new dimension, enabling them to be “proud”, enabling them to be on the winning side even at the cost of dying for what they believed in.
In the 1920 decade, everything was founded on art and the new artistic avant-garde meant that the character was a revolutionary woman who could harmonically live with another traditional one. This Carmen becomes almost a lay character, so to say, to the point of managing to transform herself and represent the symbol of the Republican fight during the civil war from 1936 to 1939.
This character illuminates all the visual arts, to the extent of becoming the image of a Spanish postage stamp and even being “stuck” in Francoism, until 1950.
In this way, this Spanish Carmen continues to live in a privileged place, even mounting the pedestal of not only Spanish but also European legends. The legend outlived all the representative arts beyond the 19th and 20th centuries, in spite of the temptation to downplay the character in relation to the truth that it represents.
When all’s said and done, she represents the quality that people’s imagination sees in Spanish women.
To tell the truth, Carmen will always be a woman that causes fear because, deep down, she continues to be a “witch”. She is an “earth” woman, more than seducing, she frightens men who don’t want to face women’s true reality: being free enterprising human beings. This free woman, faithful only to herself, becomes the symbol of Spain’s revolutionary identity and also becomes Spain itself.
In romantic Spain, religion and laity are mixed in a chaotic manner: in the representation, a soldier
can normally adore his woman in a Marian manner and, at the same time, this woman can be an angelor a demon, a virgin or a seductress. In this sense Carmen represents the woman/witch who, with her irresistible seduction, can lead men to ruin with her demoniac strength, even with just a glance.
This glance can contain a series of dark rites that are part of seduction in all the representation of the meaning of “Spanishness”.
Mérimée describes Carmen as follows: «She has three black things: her eyes, eyebrows and eyelashes, and three white things: the hue of her skin, her teeth and the palm of her hands; and there are also three shades of pink: her lips, her cheeks and her nails.” We can consider this as Mérimée’s representation of woman as an object.
In Carmen, both the novella and the opera, the fundamental myths of the human being are presented and associated with the story taking place: freedom, as a destiny that produces tragedy and death.
Freedom can be associated with the figure of Carmen: this woman perhaps represents it perfectly and above all desires and longs for freedom to live, to love and to be herself. As opposed to the feminine archetype of that period, Carmen is a truly independent woman and will defend this freedom until the moment she dies. From an ethnic point of view Carmen is a gypsy, an ethnic group that cannot consider living in any other way than in freedom and constant motus vivendi.
This is freedom conceived in the most absolute meaning of the term, which opposes a patriarchal society and all the social conventions, and is a product of the society of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Carmen will pay with her life for thisconcept, this way of always being herself, right to the end. This is clear in the last phrase written by Mérimée, which is also the climax of Bizet’s opera: «Carmen was born free and will die free».
With the Spanish Civil War, women’s lives underwent a transformation, which gave them greater freedom of movement and decision. In spite of the hard living conditions, for many women the civil war was an exciting experience that enabled them to increase their potential in society, not only behind the lines, but also actively, taking up arms and personally fighting to assert their ideals. Woman could also decide how to dress and so workers’ overalls became a symbol of the revolution and a means for female emancipation, as they made men and women equal.
The other important character, which never appears, is the character that conditions the true meaning of the tragedy. The music describes it in an omnipresent manner, making it become a non-existent additional character, which we can all recognize in the leitmotiv “of destiny”.
Destiny will lead to Carmen understanding that the way to live as she wants is to yield to fatum, so she accepts her death without complaining about anything, because she knows she is marked by this destiny. She knows from the begin who will free her from herself by killing her.
Carmen also represents untameable, savage, strong and overwhelming passion. This character is absolutely revolutionary, above all considering the period in which it was created by Mérimée and represented by the music of Bizet, when women, for the society of those days, were only allowed to live as wives, mothers or nuns, or as prostitutes, a choice that represented the rejection of society in general.
In contrast to the passion, there is the strength that enslaves Don José and puts him at the mercy of Carmen, who dominates him completely. Don José feels he is dominated and destroyed as a man.
He believes that offering her a life elsewhere means freeing her, but this is not the real meaning of the freedom Carmen wants.
Carmen represents chaos and Don José society’s pre-established order. When for the first time she seduces Don José, making him fall in love, we can think chaos has won over order.
To tranquillize society, we can say that in the finale, in order that everything returns to its primitive context, with the death of Carmen, order prevails over chaos.
Chaos belongs to the world of obscurantism, of the black art of necromancy which Carmen knows how to use, and brings the unknown, that dark world that brings her close to the devil, phrases repeated several times when Don José talks about.
The triumph of the myth shows the triumph of feminine superiority over the weakness of man, who is reduced to being subjugated for his primeval instincts, without reason managing to get the better of passion. This results in the acceptance that, in the reality/fiction of the opera, woman defeats man with death. In reality, Carmen survives and, by means of her freedom, becomes a legend. Carmen exploited man’sweakness to subjugate him and obtain triumph, with her death.
A tobacco factory and the barracks of the dragoons open out onto the main square of Seville. People are coming and going. A young girl makes her way through the crowd. She has an air of bewilderment and approaches the guards shyly, saying she is looking for Brigadier Don José. They tell her he will soon be here and invite her to wait with them. Intimidated, she declines and wanders away.
It is time for the changing of the guard. A new platoon arrives, followed by a group of young rogues who mimic the march of the soldiers. Don José is with them. His fellow soldiers tell him of the girl’s visit and, from their description, he deduces it was Micaela, an orphan who his mother has welcomed into their home.
A bell rings and everyone’s eyes turn to the cigarette-makers as they walk out of the tobacco factory. The men rush to the entrance to admire them close-up. The girls enjoy flirting. Among them is Carmen, a beautiful and sensual gypsy. Well-aware of her charm, she sings a song which is full of allusions and from which it is clear that she does not believe in the constancy of love. Don José pays no attention to her. Carmen notes his indifference and so she provocatively throws him a flower, much to the delight of the crowd. Shocked by such brazenness, but also disturbed by it, he picks up the flower and instinctively hides it under his coat.
Micaela returns. She hands Don José a letter with money enclosed and a kiss to give him, a kiss from his mother. He is moved and when she leaves, he opens the letter. His mother, he reads, wants to see him married, to that fine girl. He swears he will follow his mother’s advice and is about to throw away the flower when a fight breaks out among the cigarette-makers. Carmen has wounded a fellow worker with a knife. Don José is ordered to arrest her and escort her to prison. But on the way, Carmen, a consummate seducer, starts tricking him. She promises a meeting at the tavern of Lillas Pastia, near the walls of the city. By now bewitched, Don José succumbs: he frees her wrists, pretends to be pushed and falls to the ground. Carmen laughs and escapes.
In the tavern of Lillas Pastia, an infamous place and a smugglers’ inn where soldiers and gypsies meet. Carmen sings and dances a hypnotic and exotic love song in the company of her friends, Mercedes and Frasquita. Lieutenant Zuniga informs her that Don José, having spent time in prison for helping her to escape, has just been released. However, Zuniga, too is captivated by the gypsy and starts flirting with her, but is interrupted by the arrival of Escamillo. All the people present acclaim the young toreador as he recounts his prowess in the bullfighting arena, and he, too is struck by Carmen’s beauty.
When the regulars leave, the innkeeper allows Dancairo and Remendado to come in. They are two smugglers who are preparing to strike that night and want Carmen and her friends to help. This time, however, the gypsy has no intention of going with them: she is waiting for her man to return. Shortly afterwards, Don José arrives, manifesting all his love. Carmen starts dancing sensually for him but the moment the trumpet sounds the retreat, José (who has now been demoted to the rank of simple soldier) starts to head back to the barracks. This infuriates Carmen. She derides and insults him for this is not her idea of love. Just before leaving, he pauses and pours out his heart to her. Despite their differences, he says, he loves her and cannot live without her. Carmen then invites him to join the smugglers. She proposes a life free of constraints, but José rules out the idea of deserting. Faced with the umpteenth misunderstanding between them, he decides to leave her. In the meantime, Zuniga arrives, returning in the hope of seducing Carmen. As soon as he sees Don José, he orders him to return to the barracks, but Don José refuses and a violent fight breaks out. At this point, José, guilty of insubordination, has no choice but to join the smugglers and take up the life of an outlaw.
Having arrived at their hideout in the mountains, the smugglers sit and rest. Carmen and Don José exchange a few words but it is clear that their relationship is deteriorating. She is already tired of him and wants to be free; he is full of remorse over having betrayed his mother. Above all, though, he is obsessed by jealousy. Frasquita and Mercedes read tarot cards and see a bright future ahead for them. Carmen then comes over and consults the cards. She looks and sees death, both for her and Don José. She is agitated for she knows that her man is exasperated and could even kill her, but she is not afraid. She resigns herself to her fate.
Micaela unexpectedly arrives, accompanied by a guide. These places scare her, but in a desperate attempt to redeem the man she loves, she summons up the courage to go on. From afar, she sees Don José standing on a rock with a rifle, firing a warning shot at a stranger. Scared stiff, she quickly hides. Then Escamillo appears, having narrowly escaped Don José’s rifle shot. The toreador has come to track down the gypsy he is in love with. He and Don José exchange a few words and quickly realize they are rivals in love and prepare to fight a duel to have her. They unsheathe their swords and are about to rush at each other when Carmen and the smugglers appear and stop them.
Escamillo departs, but not before inviting them all to the bullfight in Seville. The band of smugglers is about to depart once more when they find Micaela. She pleads with José to go back home with him, but he refuses. (He knows Carmen would take advantage of his absence to start a relationship with the toreador.) However, when he learns that his mother is dying, overcome with a sense of guilt, he gives in and goes with her. But before leaving, he warns Carmen that they will meet again, soon.
In the square opposite the arena in Seville, the crowd is excitedly waiting for the toreador to arrive. When the team of toreadors arrive, preceded by the band, the crowd becomes euphoric. Escamillo arrives accompanied by Carmen, elegant and more radiant than ever. Before he enters the arena, she swears that she has never loved anyone as much as him. Don José is also in the crowd and Frasquita who has seen him, warns Carmen to be careful: it would be better if she went, she says. Carmen is not intimidated, however, and replies defiantly that she is not afraid of him; on the contrary, she wants to meet him.
Everyone goes into the arena, except Carmen. Don José arrives. He is deranged. He begs her to return to him. He humiliates himself by saying that he is ready to do anything in order to have her again. Carmen, though, is not moved by pity. She remains inflexible and haughty. She says she no longer loves him and will not change her mind. After all, free she was born and free she will die. The atmosphere becomes more and more tense and the words increasingly violent until, as a final provocation, she pulls off the ring he had given her, and throws it away.
While the crowd inside the arena is cheering and applauding Escamillo’s victory, Don José, by now out of his mind with anger and frustration, stabs Carmen mortally. Before the crowd who are now coming out of the arena, he throws himself on top of her lifeless body, calling her desperately by name.
Anna Goryachova (22, 29/6 – 11, 17, 21/7 – 3, 9/8)
Carmen Topciu (6/7, 22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Geraldine Chauvet (12/8)
Mariangela Sicilia (22, 29/6 – 6, 11/7)
Ruth Iniesta (17/7)
Serena Gamberoni (21/7 – 3, 9, 12/8)
Eleonora Buratto (22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Ruth Iniesta (22, 29/6 – 6, 11, 21/7 – 3, 9/8)
Barbara Massaro (17/7 – 12, 22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Arina Alexeeva (22, 29/6 – 6, 11, 17, 21/7 – 3, 9/8)
Clarissa Leonardi (12, 22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Brian Jagde (22, 29/6 – 25, 28, 31/8)
Walter Fraccaro (6, 11/7)
Francesco Meli (21/7 – 3, 9, 12/8)
Luciano Ganci (17/7 - 22/8)
Alexander Vinogradov (22/6 – 6, 11, 17, 21/7 – 3/8)
Gocha Abuladze (29/6)
Erwin Schrott (9, 12, 22, 25/8)
Alberto Gazale (28, 31/8)
Davide Fersini (22, 29/6 – 6, 11, 17, 21/7 – 3, 9, 12, 22/8)
Biagio Pizzuti (25, 28, 31/8)
Enrico Casari (22, 29/6 – 6, 11, 17, 21/7)
Roberto Covatta (3, 9, 12, 22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Luca Dall’Amico (22, 29/6 – 9, 12, 22, 25, 28, 31/8)
Gianluca Breda (6, 11, 17, 21/7 – 3/8)
Biagio Pizzuti (22/6 – 21/7 – 3, 9, 12, 22/8)
Nicolò Ceriani (29/6)
Gocha Abuladze (6, 11, 17/7 – 25, 28, 31/8)