Kel Millionie has done it again with his images for our upcoming new production, and that reminds me that it is high time that I said a few words about this really exciting and imaginative production that gets back to AOT's roots. Our "Le Cabaret de Carmen" uses the musical score of famed director Peter Brook's now infamous production, "Le Tragedie de Carmen", from the 1980s, but the imbalances stop there. This an wonderful original piece of theater that is both delight and disturb. It is provocative and intoxicating, just like its famous score.
First something about Peter Brook's brilliant version should be said. Brook's agreed to direct a production of "Carmen" only on the condition that he could do what we wanted with the piece. First thing was to could out everything that wasn't necessary. This meant goodbye to the chorus, goodbye to the large orchestra, and goodbye to even the extraneous characters. What was left was like a "Carmen concentrate". It is 90 minutes of music for the four leads (Carmen, José, Escamillo, and Michaela) and two actors that take on many different roles. The orchestra was cut to a small chamber size and most importantly the action was reordered to be closer to the original novella from which Merimée took inspiration. In a VERY general sense, what Brook did was to try and create a piece more along the lines of what Bizet originally intended, a dark brooding tale of human descent that doesn't lighten-up with the tunefulness of what Parisian audiences demanded. It still has the same structure and narrative as the original my with a dramatic fingerprint entire Brooks.
Now, to AOT's "Le Cabaret de Carmen"...we have taken Brook's dramatic intuition several steps further. At its heart our Carmen is about the same themes which any good Carmen, whether the Brook's or a traditional production of the full Bizet score, should be. The story of Carmen is about the potential of the human spirit, both for its animalistic core and for its ability rise above itself. There are two parallel stories to any properly told Carmen. The first is of Carmen who rises towards the end in the hope of overcoming her own past, diminished potential and cycle of violence and betrayal. The parallel story, though moving in an opposite direction, is that of José, who through lust and carnal desire is transformed into little more than a hurt and angry beast.
Our Carmen tells this same story, but in entirely original terms which will make the piece come alive for audiences in dynamic new ways. The core story is the same, but the language is completely new. Though we use the Brook score, the dialogue is new. The action is set in a Parisian cabaret let by a master of ceremonies. Audiences literally become part of this show when they walk in and as they are served food and drink by characters which are on a tragically charted course. From Brook's reduced orchestra, we go even further and perform the piece with a stage “tango-style” band. Even the orchestra is part of the performance.
(Incidentally, an interesting thought about tango is its roots as pantomime of a rider trying to subdue a wild horse on the plains of South-America...this has very compelling ties to bull-fighting as the central metaphor in a traditional Carmen.)
Carmen and Escamillo are two cabaret performers in AOT's production, and their performance numbers are staged as just that, without any attempt at narrative verisimilitude. This works splendidly with Bizet's score. A typical complaint of the music is that certain arias seem more like silly or at least commercial French songs of the day, than truly dramatic opera pieces. Nothing could be better for our Carmen. José and Micaela are members of the audience that gradually become sucked into the action.
The entire show is led by a master-of-ceremonies, and the owner of this cabaret, Madame Pastia. Together they bring a witty banter, that through its cruel comedy sets the tragedy of this tale into severe relief. The final coup-du-théâtre is in the character of Carmen herself. In a vital twist she becomes a sexually ambiguous nightclub performer, devoid of even a sexual identity until her death. José's forbidden lust, his shame and misunderstanding of this mysterious desire makes complete sense now as the pieces fall into focus.
In the lead role is French mezzo-soprano Sophie-Louise Roland, whose signature role Carmen has become. Joining her are Baltimore favorites Ryan de Ryke (our crooning Escamillo), Adam Caughey (José), and Bonnie McNaughton (Michaela). I will be taking the role of the naughty Host (which I'm terribly excited about) and special guest Lydia Gladstone will be baudy Madame Pastia. The performances will be sung in French with dialogue going between English and French (with projected titles).
This is not the sort of opera performance you can experience anywhere else. It is truly original and should absolutely not be missed. We are once again on the Baltimore Theatre Project's season. We expect even bigger crowds than we received for "Acis + Galatea", which almost sold out every show, so I encourage you to get your tickets now. The performances are September 25th-October 5th. I should add that the best seats for this show will be at tables on the stage itself. These seats include food and drink and are more affordable than almost any other opera ticket in town.
More to come on Carmen and a whole host of other projects soon!