A guide to Carmen

12 August 2019
Side view of Carmen, looking over her shoulder at the audience. A silhouette of a bull shows on the red wall.

‘Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame.’ Meet the hottest woman in all of opera – Carmen - a free spirit who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go get it. But what happens when the attention she attracts turns obsessive? Find out in this pulse-pounding production of Bizet’s Carmen.

Based on a story by the French writer Prosper Merimée, Carmen was first performed by Opera-Comique in Paris in 1875. Over a century later and we are gearing up to perform a fierce new production.

Award-winning director Jo Davies (Kiss Me, Kate) provides a refreshing perspective on this well-known opera. While remaining true to the traditional story in every sense, this production delves into Carmen’s desires. Set in 1970s Central America, we explore Carmen’s wild spirit and energy, but also her socio-political and economic situation. With no money, no education and no social standing, she has had to learn to exert power – she’s a survivor and an opportunist and uses her charm and wit to improve her economic situation, of which she is unabashed about. 

What’s the story? (contains spoilers)

The opera tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart, Micaëla, and deserts from his military duties to join a band of smugglers. As the story develops, Carmen’s relationship with José disintegrates – he’s jealous, possessive and loses Carmen's love to the glamorous bullfighter Escamillo. As much as we sympathise with her ‘victim’, Don José, there is no resisting her allure. Brimming with passion, the story unfolds to its inevitable tragic end, fuelled beneath it all by a profound longing for death. 

Why come and see it?

Carmen has all the ingredients of a great opera: intimacy, showiness and passion and the music is charming and approachable. Bizet’s score is rich in ensembles and choruses - more demanding and complex than his performers and audience were used to. Dubbed the original musical, its glorious score boasts a host of wonderful melodies, including Carmen’s sensual Habanera and Seguidilla; Don José’s tender Flower Aria and Escamillo’s rousing Toreador’s Song. There are also passionate duologues, above all the intense, final confrontation between Carmen and Don José.  It’s the perfect night at the opera.