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Carmen is all around

Whether you know it or not, you’ve almost certainly already heard a little piece of Carmen. George Bizet’s ‘Habanera’ (or you may know it as ‘L'amour est un oiseau rebelle’ if you’re an expert) is arguably his most well-known song in Carmen. With lyrics like ‘love is a rebellious bird that none can tame’, the fiery metaphors only echo the rebellious streak which runs throughout Carmen.

‘Habanera’ has featured in an array of different contemporary moments, from The Muppets rendition, to the heart-wrenching montage of loneliness in the film Up. You may even remember Beyonce’s Pepsi commercial take on the tune. The truth is, opera is everywhere, and everyone deserves to enjoy its charm. So, if you think opera isn’t for you, keep reading, and you may just find that Carmen is top of your list this August. Equally, if you’re already into opera, you may be surprised to learn why this particular production of Carmen is so interesting.

To remind yourself of the glorious ‘Habanera’, you can listen below:

A celebrated scandal

The outside of a tobacco factory in 1800s Seville is perhaps the last place you expect to be transported to, as you step through the Festival Theatre doors this summer. But you’ll soon forget the bustling Edinburgh streets and instead by enthralled by this tale of temptation, obsession and power struggle. It follows Don José, a naïve soldier, captivated by the free-spirited Carmen. She is arrested for assaulting a friend and placed under the guard of José. From here, love is brought into scrutiny, violence is evoked by jealousy, and escape is on the cards. To fully immerse yourself in some nineteenth-century scandal and discover the character’s fates, you’ll have to watch the show.

Carmen has been a rule breaker since the start. First performed in Paris by the Opéra-Comique in 1875, it received criticism for its portrayals of female sexuality, lawlessness and immorality. Carmen was therefore an unconventional choice for the stage amongst its contemporaries. As an outspoken female character in a period of unwavering male superiority, Carmen was a rebel of her time. Unsurprisingly, in the current day, audiences remain gripped by the depictions of gender dynamics, power and political unrest- themes which still very much resonate today.

Watch the video below to discover the joys and challenges Gaëlle Arquez faces while taking on the iconic, complex and ultimately fearless protagonist Carmen, a role she’s been perfecting since 2017.

A play-within-a-play

Joining the international cast of Carmen is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by the Music Director of Opéra-Comique, Louis Langrée. The score remains true to Bizet’s original, so expect sensational musical pieces interspersed with dialogue which emphasise the comedic elements of this much-loved opera.

However, this production of Carmen has an edge to it. Essentially a play-within-a-play, Director Andreas Homoki has made sure to weave in the history of the opera itself, from its critical reception to its growing popularity over the years. Homoki has made several daring decisions within this version, from starting with Don José as a member of the audience, to demonstrating Carmen’s awareness of the orchestra’s presence below. Radical choices make sense for an opera renowned for its rule breaking history! This production is in many ways a tribute to Opera-Comique itself.

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We have conceived an interpretation that tells the story of how this modern myth came to be in the 150 years since its creation.

Andreas Homoki

Visually authentic

Alongside the vocals, you’re in for a treat when it comes to the visual intentions of Carmen. Did you know that the set being used for this production is a replica of the original? This allows audiences to enjoy an authentic production (conveniently without having to travel to Paris)! Opera Wire remarks on the simple effectiveness of the scenery, consisting of "a series of curtains that open and close, as if [the audience] themselves were in a continuous search for that immeasurable theatrical power that is Carmen".

It’s clear that Carmen promises to be an incredibly immersive show this August, striking the balance between a truly authentic operatic experience, with all the fire and tension of a gripping modern-day drama.

You be the judge

Carmen is at Festival Theatre, Sun 4 – Thu 8 Aug.

Performed in French with English surtitles, the themes in this opera defy the confines of language barriers. There’s a reason Carmen has been staged over 1,000 times since its debut. To find out why, book tickets for the most popular French opera in the world.

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