Even if you’ve never seen the magnificent Carmen by Georges Bizet, you’ll recognise its music instantly. The sultry ‘Habanera’, the rousing ‘Toreador Song’ and the romanic ‘Flower Song’ are all opera classics – and the tale of a fiery love triangle between the gypsy Carmen, her lover Don José and the dashing bullfighter Escamillo is gripping from start to finish.
For these reasons, Carmen is one of the world’s favourite operas, and the perfect opera for first-timers. This production, which premiered in Sydney last year to great acclaim, is directed by veteran Shakespearean actor and director John Bell. In this version, Bell shakes up the traditional setting and imbues the story with men in ’50s gangster suits and fedoras, women in furs and sequins and break-dancing street kids alongside the bright Havana colours, cobblestone grounds and fluorescent piñata horses.
This talent-packed production features some of the biggest names in opera: the ultimate femme fatale of opera is played by Israeli-born mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, who is joined by Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov as the jealous Don José, as well as Australian talents Shane Lowrencev and Stacey Alleaume.
At its heart, Carmen is a seductive and gritty tale of power and corruption – and one which asks why a person chooses a love they know will end in disaster. “I’ve always been intrigued by the psychology of that choice,” says John Bell. “What leads you to love the one person who is going to destroy you?”