Carmen brings the lust and the music

The Minnesota Opera is wrapping up this season with a venerable favorite, Carmen.

Don’t know Carmen? Think again!

Two big big songs come out of this Opera that you’ve been hearing your whole life – in Animaniacs, Simpsons, Magnolia, pasta commercials and more.

Just for reference, here’s another take on that one, with waaaaaay more sexual tension.

So Becky and I were delighted to have an evening at the opera and got our tickets way back in March. Good thing too, cause this production is the best selling in Minnesota Opera history (albeit with twice the usual number of nights).

Opera is great for big emotions, and Carmen, despite some problems, is probably an institution for squarely aligning with lust and sex. It’s a great part for the right female to ooze sexuality like a weapon at a time where women didn’t have much else at their disposal – that time being most of human history, which is part of the problem with updating the setting to the late 1970s Spain after the death of the Francoist regime. Don’t know anything about that? No worries, it doesn’t affect the opera.

Nora Sourouzian as Carmen in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel
Nora Sourouzian as Carmen in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel

The setting introduces a rather campy set of costumes that ooze visions of shag carpeting more than shagging. Also, the factory ladies resemble the pink ladies of Grease more than anything with their smocks.

Carmen plot in a nutshell:
Carmen’s a hot babe. Seduces Don Jose, a soldier, into letting her go after some trouble. He does and goes to jail. A month later he is released. Carmen gets him to desert the Army. A bullfighter also shows up and leaves. Jose’s creepiness goes into overdrive and Carmen leaves him for the bullfighter. Jose catches up with her and gets real stabby.

Rafael Davila as Don José and Nora Sourouzian as Carmen in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel
Rafael Davila as Don José and Nora Sourouzian as Carmen in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel

Carmen is also written in the style of Opera-Comique, which means it contains spoken dialog between the musical numbers. And unfortunately, this absence of music kills the energy and momentum of the production – which is no fault of the MN Opera, and probably a personal taste thing. I’m not a fan of abstract art either, but for some people, that’s the shit that hits you right in the feels.

Another problem I had with the Opera as written is the lack of characters I really felt for. Carmen’s loyalties don’t last longer than lust. Don Jose’s jealous streak isn’t so much a tragic flaw as the only thing that defines him. A flaw connotes a small thing. He’s just a jerk all through who can also sing frickin’ amazingly. The toreador is all swagger, which is fun, but not really a thing to root for when it comes to Carmen’s decision to fall for that guy instead. Micaela, the girl from Jose’s home with a line to his mother, is the only one in the opera worth some emotional attachment, but she has a couple scenes and then falls away entirely. While Carmen is the embodiment of Lust, Michaela is love and not appreciated as much as she should be by Jose (but so much so by the audience).

Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel
Kyle Ketelsen as Escamillo in the Minnesota Opera production of Carmen. Photos by Michal Daniel

Given all this, Carmen is still full of just plain fun musical numbers. The cast we saw did wonderfully. The minor characters and chorus were especially fantastic at creating movement, energy and entertainment. You could pick out any of them and watch that person for a while, and a little story would likely emerge. The kids not so much. But the adults were phenomenal above and beyond what we’ve seen in other Minnesota Opera productions, which was already a high bar to clear.

So, should you go? For the music, yes, for the experience, yes. Go, have a good time cause it will be a long summer before the next production. We recommend the caremenitas.

Next year, we get a new original with “The Shining” and we’ll see the return of “The Magic Flute.” If you are new to opera and want a great starting point that will knock you back to bask in the awesome, go to The Magic Flute.

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