TOP Pick: New premiere moves Carmen to Franco's era

SEVENTEEN years after its last premiere at Slovak National Theatre (SND), the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet comes back to galvanise a passive Slovak (and overactive Austrian) audience.
Not an easy task for director Marián Chudovský and conductor Dušan Štefánek. Still, one is always curious to see what interesting changes and variations can be brought to such a famous piece, swatches from which are even used in advertising spots on TV. Poor maestro Bizet, who died prematurely - could Carmen's unsuccessful run on the Paris stage in March 1875 have been any more galling than hearing his immortal arias sung during ads for cars?


CARMEN and Don Jose get down to business
photo: Courtesy of SND

SEVENTEEN years after its last premiere at Slovak National Theatre (SND), the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet comes back to galvanise a passive Slovak (and overactive Austrian) audience.

Not an easy task for director Marián Chudovský and conductor Dušan Štefánek. Still, one is always curious to see what interesting changes and variations can be brought to such a famous piece, swatches from which are even used in advertising spots on TV. Poor maestro Bizet, who died prematurely - could Carmen's unsuccessful run on the Paris stage in March 1875 have been any more galling than hearing his immortal arias sung during ads for cars?

Chudovský and Štefánek's team effort in the coming premiere resulted in the opera's being rid of the old Russian-German "romance and operetta" silt. The new version aims to go further in performing the simple yet very passionate and almost brutal story of unfulfilled love between Carmen (Jitka Sapara-Fischerová, Jolana Fogašová) and Don Jose (Ivan Choupenitch, Sergej Larin, Gurgen Ovsepjan, Plamen Prokopiev).

Visually, the stage is formed into a single cut-out part of a stadium, the only coulisse used during the whole performance. According to the opera's directors, its association with the Spanish Corrida is obvious. The idea of moving the plot initially set by Prosper Mérimée in the year 1830, following a true story, into the period of general Franco's Spain in 1930-40 is the biggest surprise as well as the most courageous experiment of the new staging. We will see whether the audience recognises the intended setting (tip: I heard the uniforms are supposed to serve as a help manual).

Another positive, yet not so heartbreaking change is that the opera will be performed in its original French language (accompanied by Slovak subtitles) for the first time in the theatre's history. It's always difficult to listen without laughing to a famous aria whose lyrics run "Toreadore, pozor si daj, pozor si daj..." Slovak is not the language of opera, no matter what the Slovak nationalists say.

I can't recommend any specific date for going out to see Carmen, because of the SND's habit of not revealing the nominees for the roles until the very day of the performance. I often wonder how Vienna's national theatre can have such a list available a year ahead.

But you're likely to be fine picking any night, as both Carmens are young, talented and brisk; both also say Carmen is their favourite role. The Don Joses are in good shape too, perhaps a bit more mature, but since the role requires portraying an enormous inner tension, the greater age (if not connected with great weight) might be a benefit rather than an obstacle. Moreover, conductor Štefánek's remark that the choir and the orchestra have been radically rejuvenated, resulting in more authentic and lively sound, raises my curiosity about the performance another notch.

This week Carmen is staged on March 11 and 14, starting at 19:00, at the Slovenské národné divadlo (the Slovak National Theatre, Hviezdoslavovo nám. 1. Tickets (Sk200, 300 and 450) are on sale at the theatre's box office on Komenského nám. (behind the theatre). Tel: 02/5443-3764. www.snd.sk

By Nataša Košútová

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