Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Carmen is an amoral shameless hussy but man, can she sing. She gets into a knife fight, seduces the straight arrow captain, blows him off for the bullfighter, turns smuggler and …. but I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending.  As usual I kind of got ahead of myself  here so I’ll go back to the beginning. Twenty five years ago I would have laughed if anyone had said that I would like opera. I mean wasn’t that for the swells of New York or maybe that well fed Italian crowd that go to La Scala in Milan. But of course at least the Italians seem born to it. My parents were retired and living in Santa Fe which has a well known summer outdoor opera season. They bought me tickets to see the Barber of Seville once when I came to visit. So what the heck at least it was a comedy. I can’t say that I was really hooked on opera at first. It kind of had to grow on me. But really, what a spectacle! There’s an orchestra, sometimes literally tens of people on the same stage, costumed to the teeth and acting as well as singing. Many (spear carriers excepted) singing in the chorus. Soaring arias with incredibly trained voices. They do everything but dance and probably only skip that because it’s too hard to sing with such power and dance at the same time. Of course nobody can understand the words no matter what language that they sing in but after all, who cares. The strength and purity of the voice can be so astounding at times. But then there was Carmen. I like a lot of the others but Carmen still blows me away. So many tunes that continue to run through your head. I’ve seen it live two or three times now and seen a great movie version with Julia Migenes (who I don’t know from Eve) and Placido Domingo (who I definitely know from Adam) in the big roles. Since I have found the secret to playing YouTube videos I have had a really tough time deciding which version of the famous “Habanera” aria to show here. I like the one from the movie and there are also several versions from actual stage productions. However I couldn’t resist the one sung by Angela Gheorghiu. She is just so powerful. I hope that you agree.

Just a little bit more about the opera. It is by Bizet, set in Spain and sung in French. So, of course nothing about this opera is Italian except maybe that opera as an art form clearly has its roots in Italy and many of the most famous opera singers, composers and opera houses are in Italy. So it’s kind of like pizza – appreciated world wide but origins in Italy. I do really recommend the movie mentioned above. We (the Lovely D and I) rented it from a local video store a few years ago. I checked Amazon and it is available but ridiculously expensive but I also noted that Netflix has it. There is another aria that is probably familiar even to those who’ve never set foot in an opera house – the Toreador Song. To make it even more international this one is sung by a Russian!

Carmen has a good mix of both serious and comic scenes but like so many operas it is the tragedy that wins out. Give it a try. If you can’t warm to Carmen then opera may just not work for you.  If you too have experience with opera (for better or worse) leave a comment and let me know.

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