Who is more alluring than Carmen, the dangerous gypsy heroine recklessly playing with the fate of her victims, and her own? Add the spectacle of tavern life and, above all, Bizet’s unforgettable tunes and piquant orchestration. How to resist such a package?
Georges Bizet was only 35 when he chose Prosper Mérimée’s short novel CARMEN as the source of what was to be his last opera. The earthy realism of the subject, its low-life characters and its violent conclusion were shocking enough to create a scandal which divided public opinion, but it was not long before adherents including Tchaikovsky and Brahms, Wagner and Nietzsche, recognised it as a healthy antidote to operas on mythical or monarchical themes. And seldom can revolution have been clothed in such seductive clothes and melodies.
CARMEN offers the perfect introduction to opera. Although the story was set in and around Seville, its treatment is essentially French. Opéra de Lyon’s award-winning production presents it against the background of a sleazy Parisian night club, Paradis Perdu, wedged between hotel and police station, so that the show recaptures some of the shock which electrified audiences at the Opéra-Comique 140 years ago.
Director Olivier Py is renowned for his theatre work, especially at the Avignon Festival, as well as his spectacular stagings of grand operas on the international scene. Conductor Stefano Montanari leads a gorgeous-looking and sounding cast in the idiomatic surroundings of the Lyon ensemble.
The result is an invigoratingly fresh look at perhaps the most familiar and popular opera ever written. What else might Bizet have achieved, if he had not died on the night of its 33rd performance, exactly three months after its première?