Curtains for Carmen
(excerpt from Visits to the Opera)
I had seen the opera Carmen, several times; it was one of my favourites The Carmen production which stands out in my mind the most was at an opera house in the northwest of England. It most certainly was a night to remember, especially for a young teenager like myself.
One would have thought that a company with such an elevated reputation would have been more meticulous when casting two of the leading singers, or had being on tour limited their choices? It was positively surreal.
Carmen was the first eye opener. Instead of a youthful, lithe. Black-haired, Spanish type beauty there appeared on stage a blonde, vertically challenged lady, in her late thirties with a waistline to match.
Don José was a slightly built, skinny tenor who looked as if a puff of wind might blow him away; certainly not the usual dashing, debonair military type one would normally expect, more like one of the Marx brothers.
The music and singing were wonderful and I managed to forget about the strange casting until that part where Don José, having been discharged from prison, was trying to persuade Carmen to renew their passion while she, in turn was seeing off a visiting matador, an unforgettable scene.
In the middle of the stage there was a table with four chairs and for some reason Don José had been directed to sweep Carmen off her feet and place her onto the table where she would perform some kind of terpsichorean manoeuvres with castanets. The tenor`s struggle to achieve this gracefully was monumental and the collective holding of breath in the audience was palpable. I couldn`t stop myself from dissolving into silent hysterics until my seat started to rock while my Mother was frantically digging me in the ribs to shut up
Arriving at the final scene, Escamilio could be heard belting out the toreador song off stage while Don José was beseeching Carmen to forget Escamilio and return to him. All his pleading was in vain. Finally, a dagger was produced, or was it a Swiss Army knife? Carmen was stabbed violently and she reeled to the side of the stage, still singing with great fervour. As she reached her final death throes she grabbed at a nearby curtain, there was an almighty rip and our heroine staggered and fell flat on her back. The safety curtain was lowered immediately.
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