Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan


Bizet's Carmen - set in a sea of red

Four Seasons
Toronto's Four Seasons
As a child, I was classically conditioned by my dentist to detest opera. He listened to sopranos and tenors and such while drilling my teeth - without painkiller. I associate opera with torture.

At the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, I begin deprogramming with Carmen, a good choice because it's one of the more famous operas and easily accessible to unsophisticated types like me. It begins with an overture, designed to curtail people from gossip about tacky clothes that others are wearing.

Carmen The first thing noticed was an emphasis on the primary colour, red with curtain, props, and costumes - everything bathed in bright red. Red is the colour of passion. Carmen is set in Seville, the home of bullfights and spicy Spanish women. Even spicier, Georges Bizet , the composer, portrays Carmen as a gypsy. They are fiery and temperamental.

Although the opera was first performed in 1875, long before Freud and his erotic theories, Georges sets the opening scene near a tobacco factory where young women puff heartily on cigarettes in front of young, virile soldiers. You know there's going to be trouble. Sure enough, Carmen shows up, hotter than Tabasco sauce! She immediately tries to seduce Don José, minding his own business, dreaming of the sweet, innocent girl next door.

Carmen does things with a rifle that would make Freud blush. Don José pretends not to notice, but, when she throws him a flower (red) he is smitten. Carmen is the prototypical free spirit, temptress, a siren who derails any man in her path. It's dating Doris Day when Brigitte Bardot , Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe show up. When you bring one home to visit, mother says, "Why can't you find a nice Catholic girl?" or Jewish or Muslim or Protestant or atheist as the case may be. Carmen is every man's secret, sensual dream.

Bizet complicates matters when Carmen forces Don José to go to jail, desert the army, and become a smuggler, his life in complete disarray. She runs off with a toreador, wearing sunglasses (at night), much to Don José's chagrin. Again, red predominates, foreshadowing big trouble like Stanley Kubrick's sea of blood streaming from the elevator in The Shining. Don José stabs Carmen to death outside the bullring, which is also coloured red.

The opera is terrific. I love the music, and surprisingly, am familiar with many of the arias. Even better, I had visited Seville and remembered the supposed tobacco factory. The cast is international. Larissa Kostiuk , Carmen, is a mezzo-soprano from Russia. She received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. Attila Kiss , Don José, is a Transylvanian tenor; Ana Ibarra , Micaela, the girl next door, a Spanish soprano, almost stole the show; Paulo Szot , Escamillo, a Brazilian baritone, Joshua Hopkins , Morales, a Canadian baritone.

Conductor, Richard Bradshaw, and his orchestra were exceptional and received hearty applause. The thing to do at operas is to shout, "Bravo!" so I tried a few, and pretty soon I was greeting all of the singers with "Bravo!" Even the orchestra received a "Bravo!"

Many of you are thinking: why go to the opera? I won't understand it. Not to worry. First, Carmen is in French, Canada's alternate language, so everyone will understand it. Just kidding. Actually, a translation runs across the top of the stage, but it's not necessary if you are conversant with colour symbolism. And, they keep repeating the same words so after a while you catch on. Would I go again? You bet. Handel, the chap who wrote the Messiah , is up next with Rodelinda . Check it out on the web site at: www.coc.ca.

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Carmen and Don Jose
Carmen and Don Jose


Maria Callas, interview

Maria Callas was born in New York City on December 3, 1923. She made her professional debut with the Royal Opera of Athens in Boccaccio, and took her first major role in Tosca. Her Italian opera debut took place at the Verona Arena in 1947 with a performance of La Gioconda. In 1954, Callas made her American debut in Norma and in 1956, she at last had the opportunity to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in her home city of New York. During the 1960s, the quality and frequency of her performances waned. On September 16, 1977, Callas died in Paris.


Carmen (Bizet) The Royal Opera

Maria Callas Carmen. G. Bizet 1962


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