35+ years on the lyric stage and a major portion of that time I portrayed one of Operas greatest protagonists, Carmen. I lived the life of this amazing and emancipated woman in productions at the world’s greatest opera houses through the eyes of the worlds’ greatest directors that for me, extended over an entire range. Sometimes focused on all things French, sometimes all things Spanish, and Carmens comical, serious, evil, delightful, scary, or dramatic. It ran the gamut—each having validity in the production, with the casts and audiences. As different, as interesting, as varied, as shaping, they are all part of my Carmen.
The incredible honor, the gift Minnesota Opera offered me to direct my vision of Carmen, bringing this femme fatal to the very stage (or Company if not actually the stage) at which I first portrayed her is a complete wonderment and life-cycle event for me. After researching and preparing a few different ‘concepts’, some ideas remained in place. I knew I wanted the show to be gritty, to be natural, organic, undecorated, raw, and truthful. For our production I went first directly to the literary source, Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen keenly aware that although the libretto of the opera shares the same name, the Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy libretto is a distinct work of art.
I am telling our opera through the lens of Romani culture, a culture rich in oral tradition with an emphasis on family. They are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Europe: a closed and bound compressed community that is economically dislocated and excluded—a pressure cooker society, if you will? No buses go to where they live, the only people who come there are people who don’t live there, people with authority over them, and most often in confrontation with them. There’s a sense of a squashed spirit in the community. Inhabitants are subject to racism, discrimination, and persecution. Limitation and internal frustration are ripe and play out in our production of Carmen. Highly romanticized, stereotypic, even derogatory in many ways, Carmen reigns as a musical masterpiece and perhaps the most-beloved work in the operatic cannon.
Carmen is a character who transcends her circumstance, even the Romani culture wherein women have no power, no authority, and no political voice. Even more so, and exaggerated for a young unmarried woman like the Carmen in our opera, she would be invisible in her society. However, in the novella, Carmen is married. Don José, on the other hand, from overture to finale is afleshed-out character and the most expansive and dramatic. In him we see a man who never finds his place in his society, who is lost from the beginning. From the moment Don José comes on stage, you will see him in a constant spiral downwards and as each act plays, he becomes more angry, unhinged, and diminished. I intend to show Don José is falling irreversibly as Carmen is rising without obstacle.