Well...Carmen is fast upon us and I thought I would write a bit about it each day (though my track record isn't so good, I will try my hardest). Today I am meeting with our music director Jo Ann Kulesza as well as the folks at Theatre Project, Robert Olivier Restaurant, Creative Alliance, and some board members that are working on corporate sponsorship. That in addition to a long list of tasks dealing with everything from costumes to props to marketing.
This "Le Cabaret de Carmen" is noting going to be like any other opera experience you will have had. It is a bit like our "Acis and Galatea" in how it blurs genre and break a lot of the "opera barriers", but a very adult version. Lets face it, Carmen is a bloody violent adult story. It history has been one of watering down. Even from its transition from novella into opera it was soften around the edges. José goes from committing a whole string of murders, to just one violent act of a spurned lover. The fact that Carmen was already married to a gypsy is removed. And, the whole tone of the original story, dark and unglamorized was altered.
Then, over the course of last 150 years, the standard Carmen production has become more and more extravagent. The high point is the Verona production which includes hundreds of people on stage, animals, gypsy dance troupe. It is madness. It also makes for great visual enjoyment, but not a lot of dramatic integrity. I'm not talking about realism, but a sort of dramatic focus and sincerity. I'm actually of the opinion that less is more when it comes to Carmen.
Peter Brook apparently was too, and his version corrected these things. It was a powerful evocation of the capability for madness and great violence in all of us. Horrible, but it caught upon a truth.
Our production uses Brook's reconstruction as its starting point, but I have taken certain unconventional steps to go further in connecting the audience and the tragedy. The first is the use of comedy. Nothing makes in insanity of violence more apparent than humor, and this production will mix the two in truly distrubing ways. I'm going to post on both of these, the tragic and the comic, in the coming days.
The idea of making Carmen a cabaret act, just like making Acis a circus show, came organically. As the pieces began to fall it just seemed right. This theatric coup somehow actually connects it more with the original. In Bizet's music exists something of the Parisian nightlife. The music is tuneful, intoxicating, and it dances. There is also a decadence about cabarets that matches they allure of Carmen. And Carmen is of course on of the great divas in the opera cannon.
Making it into a cabaret allows for the sort of in-your-face-opera that I enjoy creating. The audience actually becoming part of the story. What starts as a harmless evening of laughter and drink, and dirty jokes, grows increasingly darker. Tied to together by to hosts, the audience becomes accomplishes in the violence that unfolds before them. That is certainly the sort of opera experience that I don't know anyone else who offers.
And what about Carmen's as a sexual being...well that demands a post all of its own, and as the cast starts rehearsing and discussing tomorrow I'm sure there will be a lot to say. Once again, however, the decision was organic. Somehow it just works. Carmen needs to be a creature of mystery, coldness, and desire. There needs to be some shame in loving her, and something almost depraved or atleast outside of the norm. A gyspy alone doesn't offer that to a contemporary audience, and neither does a mere cabaret singers. Our Carmen is based on a historical character, Madam Sata, who was a Brazilian cabaret drag performer. This dramatic decision makes alot of the psycological question as the both Carmen and José internal dialogue fall very much into place, and it lends to the uncomfortable darkness of the piece. More to come on that.
I didn't really know where this post was headed when I started it. I see now that it is a list of subject to be discussed in detail in future posts. Good - maybe that will help me actually acomplish it! Now off to the work of the day!