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Opéra comique in three acts
Michael Rot's edition of Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy's libretto, adapted by Constantinos Carydis
World premiere March 3 1875, Opéra Comique, Paris
First performance of this production June 5 2016
Performed in French with German and English surtitles. ca. 3hrs 30mins, including one interval
Introductory talk (in German) in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Seville. The Moralès and his soldiers look on as men pester a young woman, Micaëla, who is looking for Don José. She runs off, telling the soldiers that she will come back as soon as José is back on duty. The women who work at the cigarette factory are taking a break, surrounded by men. Carmen has the most admirers. Only one man, José, takes no notice of her until she throws him a flower. He is confused and fascinated by her, and very pleased when he sees Micaëla again. She, an orphan raised by José's mother, gives him a letter, money and, best of all, a kiss from his mother, which makes him forget seductive Carmen for a moment. Carmen is arrested for injuring one of her colleagues in the factory with a knife. Lieutenant Zuniga orders José to take her to prison. She seduces José with song and promises of love. He helps her escape, and is arrested. Act 2, Lillas Pastia's tavern. Carmen and her friends Mercédès and Frasquita work with the smugglers Dancaïro and Remendado. Escamillo, the winner of the bullfight in Granada, appears with his friends. He is strongly attracted to Carmen. But she is waiting for José, who is due to be released from prison that day, the reason why she refuses to take part in the next smuggling operation. José arrives at last. While Carmen dances for him, the tatto is heard. The soldier, conscious of his duty, tells Carmen he must go. She is furious with him and doubts his love. Lieutenant Zuniga suddenly appears. José, driven by jealousy, attacks his superior. Zuniga is disarmed by the smugglers. There is now no turning back for José, he deserts. Act 3, In the mountains. The smugglers try and transport their wares to Seville under the cover of darkness. José now lives with them and Carmen, who is fed up with José's jealousy. The cards prophesy that both will die. When Escamillo, searching for Carmen, meets José they fight a duel, during which Carmen saves Escamillo's life. He invites her and the smugglers to the bullfight in Seville. Micaëla bravely approaches the smugglers to try and persuade José to come home. Only the news that his mother is on her deathbed can move him to follow Micaëla. Outside the bullring. Escamillo enters the arena for the bullfight, cheered by the people. Carmen wants to follow him. José blocks her way. While the bullfight is going on, José begs Carmen, for the last time, to follow him and start a new life. She refuses, throwing the ring he gave her to the ground. José stabs Carmen.
She lives fearlessly, in the present: Carmen, probably the most desirable female figure in operatic history, cannot be understood or possessed by someone who's life is ruled by boundaries and convention. That is why she drives Don José, who cannot understand why she cannot be happy with faithful, constant love, out of his mind, and comfort zone. All attempts to tempt Carmen into his known order, which he sees as saving her, are doomed to failure. They drive each other into even deeper corners. Barrie Kosky's production takes the most performed opera in the world back to its roots - Opéra comique. The story is made even more clear and exciting through the use of spoken texts instead of dialogue, steering the opera to its tragic end. Lyric moments collide with tremendous smugglers' scenes. Kosky's vision breaks all the usual Carmen clichés and genre boundaries by including unexpected breaks between the vicious tone of opéra bouffe.