Opera Australia’s ‘Carmen’, directed by John Bell
Clementine Margaine as Carmen
Yonghoon Lee as Don Jose and Natalie Aroyan as Micaela
Yonghoon Lee and Clementine Margaine
Head to Havana in Opera Australia's new production of Bizet's fiery melodrama, directed by John Bell
Having put Francesca Zambello's 2008 production to rest in 2014, and after the phenomenal success of Gale Edwards’ spectacular 2013 production for Handa on Sydney Harbour (HOSH), Opera Australia commissioned Sydney’s ultimate Shakespearean actor and director John Bell to create this new production, making its premiere in Sydney.
If this is your first Carmen: the plot concerns a love triangle between a sultry Spanish gypsy working in a cigarette factory, who seduces a local soldier away from his intended bride and his post – only to ditch him for a bullfighter. It does not end well.
Director John Bell has transposed the drama to a contemporary setting that conjures the colour, heat and heady lifestyle of Havana, Cuba – while remaining deliberately vague; let's face it, when your plot turns around a bull fight, and your characters are speaking French, you're not dealing with a strictly realistic world.
Carmen is a perfect opera for beginners: the score is all killer no filler, the plot moves along at a cracking pace, and there is a psychological realism to the love triangle that many operas lack: you can really understand why Carmen and Don José fall in love with each other but also why their relationship combusts.
Bell's production is notable for abandoning the traditional Spanish setting for something a little more contemporary: think fedoras and bad suits, expensive black-market furs thrown over cheap party dresses, and break-dancing street kids.