Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala
Treble Voices Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala Production
By now an acclaimed classic with a stream of revivals, this is the Emma Dante show that so shocked part of the gallery on its opening night in 2009. A free, secular and rebellious Carmen, mired in a world of grey and dusty decay, bedecked with religious ornaments, votive offerings and blood-red gashes. A maiden Carmen, untouched by social hypocrisy, an unsullied martyr, almost angelic. The leads were played by Elīna Garanča and José Cura, then revisited by Anita Rachvelishvili (making her debut to great acclaim in this show) and Francesco Meli. The baton is wielded by the world-renowned opera specialist Massimo Zanetti.
- Massimo Zanetti
- Emma Dante
- Richard Peduzzi
- Emma Dante
- Dominique Bruguière
- Choreographic movements
- Manuela Lo Sicco
Don José José Cura (March); Francesco Meli (June)
Escamillo Vito Priante (March); Artur Ruciński (June)
Le Dancaïre Michal Partyka
Le Remendado Fabrizio Paesano
Moralès Alessandro Luongo
Zuniga Gabriele Sagona
Carmen Elīna Garanča (March); Anita Rachvelishvili (June)
Micaëla Elena Mosuc (March); Nino Machaidze (June)
Frasquita Hanna Hipp
Mercédès Sofia Mchedlishvili*
Une marchande d’orange Alessandra Fratelli
Un bohemien Alberto M. Rota
Lillas Pastia Rémi Boissy
Un guide Carmine Maringola
*Soloist of the Teatro alla Scala Academy
A square in Seville.
Outside the cigarette factory, soldiers on guard duty watch the passers-by (Scena and Chorus: “Sur la place, chacun passe”). From a distance is heard a military march, followed by a band of urchins: it’s the changing of the guard (Chorus: “Avec la garde montante”). The factory bell rings, and everybody presses forward to see the cigarette girls come out, and especially to court the most seductive of them all: the gypsy Carmen (Chorus: “La cloche a sonné”). Impudent and indifferent, the girl sings a song (Habanera: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”) and throws a flower to Don José, a corporal in the Dragoons. He is perturbed by her gesture. The arrival of his fiancée Micaëla, who brings greetings from his distant mother, seems to take Don José’s mind off Carmen (Duet: “Parle-moi de ma mère”). But then a furious row breaks out in the factory, started by the comely cigarette girl (Chorus: “Au secours! N’entendez-vous pas?”). She is promptly arrested and handed over to Don José. During the brief interrogation, conducted by lieutenant Zuniga, Carmen refuses to answer questions. Instead she cheekily hums to herself (Song: “Tra la la la la la la la”). Then, alone with Don José, she strikes up another song to convince the corporal to let her escape: in exchange she promises him a rendezvous at Lillas Pastia’s inn (Seguidilla and Duet: “Près des remparts de Séville”). Bewitched by the gypsy girl, Don José has himself thrown to the ground, thus enabling Carmen to take to her heels, amidst laughter from the cigarette girls (Finale: “Voici l’ordre, partez”).
At Lillas Pastia’s inn.
Carmen sings and dances with two of her female friends (Frasquita and Mercédès) in Lillas Pastia’s ill-reputed tavern (Song: “Les triangles des sistres tintaient”). Also among the somewhat dubious people in the establishment is lieutenant Zuniga, who woos the gypsy girl. Later, with his retinue of admirers (Chorus: “Vivat! Vivat le toréro”), the toreador Escamillo enters, singing his famous couplets (“Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”). Carmen resists his advances too, for she is in love with Don José and is waiting for him to be released from prison, into which he has been thrown for having let her get away. It is closing time. Everybody comes out except Lillas Pastia and the other members of the band of smugglers to which Carmen also belongs. They are preparing a robbery for that night and try to convince Carmen to join them (Quintet: “Nous avons en tête une affaire”). Meanwhile a song is heard off stage: it is sung by Don José who is gradually approaching (“Halte-là! Qui va là?”). The soldier and the gypsy remain alone, and she dances for him, accompanying herself on the castanets (Duet: “Je vais danser en votre honneur”). A stand-easy is heard from the streets, and Don José, who has been demoted to the rank of private, says he must now return to barracks. Carmen inveighs against him and makes fun of him. In the meantime lieutenant Zuniga returns and attempts to seduce the beautiful gypsy. Blind with jealousy, Don José flings himself at him, but the smugglers enter, separate them and lead Zuniga away (Finale: “Holà! Carmen, holà!”).
A wild and remote spot.
The scene opens in the smugglers’ den. It is night (Sextet and Chorus: “Écoute, écoute, compagnon”). Don José, who has followed Carmen into the mountains, creeps about uneasily while thinking with remorse of his old mother. Carmen has already tired of him and, turning her back on him, she reads the cards with Frasquita and Mercédès (Trio: “Mêlons! Coupons!”), but her fate is sealed: the cards indicate death for her and for Don José. The smugglers go off with the women to do their shady business (Ensemble:
“Quant au douanier, c’est notre affaire”). Micaëla enters, accompanied by a guide: she is looking for Don José (Aria: “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”). The latter, who still desperately loves the woman for whom he has ruined his life, clashes with Escamillo (Duet: “Je suis Escamillo”) who has come up the mountains to see Carmen. The two men are fighting with knives when Carmen arrives, just in time to separate them. Escamillo invites the gypsy to the bullfight and goes out. Micaëla arrives to tell Don José that his mother is dying and beseeches him to follow her. Don José, stricken with sorrow and jealousy, and threatening Carmen who defies and taunts him mockingly, follows Micaëla out (Finale: “Holà! Holà, José”).
A square in Seville near the Arena.
The square is filled by a many-coloured and noisy crowd (Chorus: “À deux cuartos”) awaiting the arrival of the torero to acclaim and cheer him. Escamillo enters, with Carmen (March and Chorus: “Les voici! Les voici!”). Frasquita and Mercédès warn their friend of Don José, whom they have seen lurking in the neighbourhood. They all go into the Arena except the two exlovers (Duet and Final chorus: “C’est toi? / C’est moi!”). In vain Don José implores Carmen to come back to him and to love him again. But the gypsy is adamant. She tosses away the ring which he had given her, while from the Arena are heard acclamations of the torero’s victory. As Escamillo steps out of the Arena surrounded by the festive crowd, Don José stabs Carmen to death and falls sobbing over her corpse, calling out her name in despair.
CARMEN: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
BY EMILIO SALA
The most reliable experts swear that the opera is the most widely performed in the world. However, when it was first staged at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875, it was given a rather frosty reception. The fact that the public did not understand it was a cause of deep sorrow to Bizet, who died three months later at the age of only thirty-six. Even so, Carmen ran for
48 consecutive performances, which can hardly be considered a negligible figure, although ironically, the audiences were drawn by the opera’s reputed indecency and its condemnation by the press. “Our stages are increasingly invaded by courtesans. This is the class from which our authors so like to re- cruit the heroines of their dramas and their opéras-comiques”, wrote Achille de Lauzières in his review published in La Patrie on 8 March. He went on: “It is the fille in the most repugnant sense of the word [that has been set on stage]; the fille who is obsessed with her body, who gives herself to the first soldier that passes, on a whim, as a dare, blindly; […] sensual, mocking, hard-faced; miscreant, obedient only to the law of pleasure; […] in short, well and truly a prostitute off the streets”. The critic for the Petit Journal on
6 March said of the interpretation of Carmen: “Madame Galli-Marié has found how to make the character of Carmen more vulgar, more hateful and more abject than it already was in Mérimée. Her interpretation is brutally re- alistic, in the manner of Courbet”. We shall return to the realism and to Célestine Galli-Marié, the first to play the role of Carmen; however, it should be strongly underlined that perceiving Carmen as a fille, a prostitute, is a de- fensive reaction, typical of the bourgeoisie, and of which there is no evi- dence in the opera. If anything, she is the opposite: Carmen never sells her- self; she is a free woman (this is the real scandal), wholly coherent and un- compromising. “Jamais Carmen ne cédera, libre elle est née et libre elle mourra” [Never will Carmen cede, free she was born and free she will die].
If we wish to measure the distance that separates Bizet’s Carmen from an average opéra-comique of the time, we might refer to a previous adaptation of Mérimée’s story, La fille d’Égypte (1862) by Jules Barbier, with music by Jules Beer. Browsing through this banal work, writes Hervé Lacombe, “it is easier to understand the formidable challenge of Bizet’s score to the melliflu- ous conventions of the opéra-comique”. However, it should also be pointed out how, at the same time, Bizet’s Carmen went against the poeticising ten- dency typical of the period (see Thomas’s Mignon of 1866), which was push- ing the opéra-comique towards the delicate sentimentalism of the opéra- lyrique. Bizet himself had also moved in this direction with his Djamileh, staged at the Opéra-Comique in 1872. And the same can be said of the re- vival of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette under the direction of Bizet at the Opéra Comique in 1873. So, with Carmen, Bizet doubly dissociates himself, from the opéra-comique on the one hand, and from the opéra-lyrique on the oth- er. The category to which Carmen belongs, however, is still not clear today and something of a problem. “They say that I am obscure and complicated,”
Bizet tells his mother-in-law, “but this time I have written an opera that is completely clear, lively, colourful and melodious.” Like the dramatic mecha- nisms used, it is elementary music.
It may be easier to understand Carmen by looking firstly at Daudet’s L’Arlé- sienne, a play for which Bizet wrote some beautiful incidental music in
The use of pre-existing material taken from the Provencal folk tradi- tion, in order to create a musical background against which to set the ac- tion, anticipated one of the features of Carmen: let us not forget that the fa- mous Habanera from the first act is based on a then popular Spanish song, El Arreglito, by Sebastián de Yradier. The effect of contrast between the painful explosion of the individual drama and the jubilant sound of the inci- dental music describing the action with its festive folk sound closely links the finales of the first and fourth tableaux in L’Arlésienne with the last act of Carmen. And indeed, the enhancement of the theatrical dimension in Bizet’s last opera is extremely evident. If the mixed forms of drama appeared to the opéra-lyrique to be a throwback to the past (Roméo et Juliette, mentioned above, was performed with the recitatives sung), the spoken dialogues in Carmen acquire considerable importance. The same can be said for the mélodrames (the simultaneous presence of spoken dialogue and music) al- ready experimented in L’Arlésienne. Nowadays, we are not wholly aware of this, because even in the most “philological” productions the spoken parts are unashamedly cut. The famous realism of Carmen lies firstly in the struc- ture: the amount of incidental music, justified by the action and the back- drop against which it takes place, is very surprising and corresponds to the enhancement of the theatrical dimension mentioned previously. Carmen’s songs in the first and second acts would be as pertinent even if we were to imagine the opera as a spoken theatrical drama. Then, of course, there is Don José’s song performed off-stage and again the first part of his duet with Carmen in the second act, which are pure theatre, pure incidental music. Célestine Galli-Marié was the singer who first starred as Carmen, and who worked closely with Bizet on modelling the character. As Hervé Lacombe ex- plains, her interpretation of the part was based more on the effectiveness of her acting than on her voice or her ability to sing. The first success of Car- men came with its production in Vienna during the autumn of 1875 and co- incided with a series of interventions including additions, rewritings, indica- tions for its execution, which were more or less justified and had the inten- tion of normalising/lightening Bizet’s original score, and which became the standard in Ernest Guiraud’s version. Following Fritz Oeser’s questionable critical version of the Sixties, musicologists from around the world have be- gun to look at the opera again and to clean it up with the aim of returning to a version that is as close as possible to what Bizet intended. Robert Did- ion’s version for La Scala is without a doubt a further step in this direction.