Carmen fires emotions in Milano

Milano – Abdul Rahman Bitar - New production of the most popular opera ends by applause to singers and some protestors booing the director

Carmen fires emotions in Milano
The opera “ Carmen “ by George Bizet has been stirring emotions and controversy since 1875. It inaugurated the new season of Teatro alla Scala di Milano which was considered an international event because we saw a new production shown for the first time. The role of the fickle gypsy girl was assigned to a new unknown starting soprano from Georgia aged 25 years, Anita Rachvelshivili supported by a capable young German tenor who reached stardom recently, Jonas Kaufmann and plays the role of Don Jose who discards his military uniform and ends up as a smuggler in the mountains of Andalusia for the sake of Carmen’s eyes and attraction. In the end, he kills her out of jealousy in front of a bull-fight arena in Seville after he had destroyed himself. The real star behind the scenes was the conductor, Daniel Barenboim who led the orchestra in a marvelous way which enabled the three stars to receive warm applause of the public for a continuous 15 minutes after the show was over. The theater director Emma Dante, a newcomer to directing operas in a fresh creative style, and perhaps overcharged, received admiration and applause but boos as well from a group of spectators that were unhappy that Carmen was stripped of its traditional features and Spanish atmosphere.

The opera house of La Scala di Milano is one of the five most illustrious opera houses in the world. It starts its season on 7 December every year for the last 50 years. La Scala’s current General Manager, the Frenchman Stephane Lissner chose to start the new season with a production of the unforgettable Carmen for the 182 time in the history of La Scala. The plot of the opera is based on a short story by the French writer Prosper Merimee; its composer Bizet died young at 37 a few months after its first performance in Paris which failed after shocking the conservative audience at the time. Bizet died of a heart attack perhaps after reading the negative reviews of the press and music critics who considered the subject as immoral because it embodies the idea of temptation that leads to love and passion which ends in self destruction caused by the jealousy of Don Jose and the capricious behavior of Carmen and her lack of fidelity. Soon Carmen worked its seductive magic and became a myth exciting desires even though she is not a raving beauty but has a captivating magnetic effect and free thinking void of any restraint or promises.

The director, Emma Dante, from the new generation of directors coming from Sicily, succeeded in giving the current production a touch of Southern Italy, its colors and emotions. As the great conductor Barenboim said “ she created the opera scenes in a clear way that permits the spectator to follow the events with keen interest, and she painted the right surroundings that exert an impact “. Dante’s style in her successful horror plays like a dozen Mafia gunmen led by a women helped her, besides the brilliant music, in focusing the audience attention for 3 full hours. She used effectively her method of dim lighting and her own design of the costumes to hint to the spectator what was about to happen after putting him in a state of suspense. The gypsy dance scene which witnessed the flaming fire of passion contained clothes with bright colors for Carmen, the chorus and the ballet dancers such as red, purple , fuchsia and orange , while in the death scene we saw Carmen dressed in black as a sign of her tragic end.

Anita Rachvelshvili performed the role of the sensuous Carmen with noticeable
distinction that will make her a future successful star. Her beautiful exciting voice, and sensual features as well as her ability to both act and sing gave her a tense curious attraction. The excellent performance of Jonas Kaufmann and his good French pronunciation without a German accent as well as his sweet dramatic rare voice made the show a certain smash hit. He sang without any forcing or pretension as if it was just natural sailing, and no wonder at that because he possesses a an extraordinary talent. Rachvelshvili excelled in the famous aria “ Habanera” which means Havana, Cuba where Bizet resorted to a Cuban tune effected by African rhythm, while the baritone from Uruguay, Erwin Schrott distinguished himself when he sang “Toreador” in the role of the bull fighter Escamillo who stole Carmen’s heart from Don Jose , so fond of her since she threw at him a red rose. The daring scenes that cannot be forgotten in this performance were : the first scene in a square in Seville that looked like Palermo without the well known Spanish touches except for three men fanning themselves with Spanish fans and a few workers dusting off carpets in open air. The scene of the women fights and hair pulling among the tobacco factory workers where the rebellious Carmen works. were so authentic and full of movement and feelings. The scene of Carmen sitting over Don Jose as a sign of her control and spell over him then singing “ Love is a gypsy child that follows no law “.

The show was attended by the Italian President, Giorgio Napoletano, the Mayor of Milano, Letizia Moratti, and the Minister of Tourism, Vittoria Brambilla, and many world personalities, celebrities and artists including the writer Dan Brown. Outside the theater demonstrations took place calling the Government not to cut its subsidy to cultural activities. It was an emotional evening full of feelings and sensations, and we discovered a new dimension in looking at Carmen. She was shown as an exciting sensual woman with a project in dealing with men, since she is the cunning type that calculates everything.

Monday, December 28th 2009
Abdul Rahman Bitar

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