Friday, February 5, 2010


The other night we went to Regal Cinema to see the HD performance of the Metropolitan Opera's Carmen. We took our usual seats in the back row, high up, and I looked down on an audience of older people. There might have been one or two under fifty. I stared at all that white hair, and gray hair--mine was concealed under a headband. In a few minutes we would hear the passions of young people.

The singing was magnificent--Elina Garanca as Carmen and Robert Alagna as Don Jose--but I found myself losing interest. Garanca played Carmen without nuance. Her Carmen was teeth-flashing, voraciously sensual and cruel. A femme fatale, nothing else.

At one point I heard J. snort with laughter. "What's funny?" I whispered. "He's crawling over her like a monkey," J. answered. Alagna is not a tall man.

The opera came to its fateful conclusion, as all opera does. Don Jose stabs Carmen to death. Garanca's Carmen is defiant; she embraces her death.

The curtain came down; the singers smiled as the audience applauded. "No one really dies in opera. They just take their bows," I said. In fiction, the characters really do seem to die. They do not put down their masks and bow. The author does not step from the pages and bow. But year after year there will be new Carmens, living and dying. As they bow before the curtain, restored to their own names, they show us the illusionary nature of art.


  1. Yesterday I've been in the theatre, to see a play about a woman, coming home after work, having poor dinner, doing some needle work, going to bed, and finally commiting suicide.
    This play was surprisingly full of hope; it was staged in such a great way, that I could feel all the possibilities of choice one has, even if this sounds heartless. To loose interest seemed not to be possible to me, and the to the other audience aswell, ; it was total silence during the whole time, and believe me, if I could I would send this play to you, because it has been absolutely extraordinary. I'm still so impressed.

  2. Carmen is so tuneful that just about everyone can identify its themes. Along with the Trimuphal march of Aida they are among the most familiar in the western canon. And many of the less memorable bits are quite subtle and beautiful. This production was gorgeous with a stage full of wonderful sopranos, better than average Met dancing and a mad jack-in-the-box conductor whom I liked. Gananca seemed to model many of her poses on Marlene Dietrich’s Blue Angel and later shtick. That was fun to notice. Then why, as always, was it such a bore? Perhaps it is a fake. Maybe this is what Miriam is driving at. Playing at passion, but lacking authenticity (dread word). It is Spanish the way St. Patrick’s Day is Irish therefore flat. Perhaps no one has done what Miriam wants: to put some depth and development in the protagonist. I have never seen it, but perhaps I missed it. I remember hearing Rise Stevens do the role in the 40’s and others later, but who remembers the detail? I think back now and remember Miriam’s post of May 5, 2009 on Antonio Gades whom she extolled. For me he had all the pieces, but they did not fit – a recital. The soul was missing, the duende. If its Spanish, its gotta have duende. (See the late Garcia Lorca, the authority on all things duende.)

  3. well, I wish I'd seen it so I can weigh in, not that I would because I see music rather than hear I only appreciate the operas where I can look at the tonsils of the singers...

  4. Melissa: with these HD broadcasts you can look right down the singers' throats. Unsettling, but not for you.

    Smilla, hello: your play did what it was supposed to do.

    And Bluedog, no duende! A French version of the Spanish. So tell me: who has duende? Garcia Lorca?

  5. Thank you for this nice memory. It was the second opera I saw in me life, being not than fifteen.
    Working now as a teacher, speaking about Opera to students, they do indeed react with words like "boring", "still too young for that". Well, I guess that it takes time to realise how much beauty is within it.
    Please have a wonderful start into the weekend.

  6. Miriam, I remember seeing Carmen in San Francisco in 1966 after years of going Saturdays standing room only at the Old Met. That SF audience was so pleased and Brava'd and Bravo'd away. I sat in sullen silence. Not one bit of magic there... so your review brought back some old memories. Thanks! Tamam

  7. Carmen is one of those operas that to me even bad acting cannot ruin, not for the wonderful music. I hope you managed to salvage something from your night.

  8. Elizabeth, there are some wonderful arias--"L'amour est un oiseau rebelle , , , . "

  9. Garcia Lorca on duende: "In every country, death comes as a finality. It comes, and the curtain comes down. But not in Spain! In Spain the curtain goes up. Many people live out their lives between walls until the day they die and are brought out into the sun. In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country of the world: their profile wounds like the edge of a barbers razor. "