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The many faces of Carmen

July 22, 2010 – 10:55 am

Seville is famous for many typically Spanish, and Andaluz, things: tapas, flamenco, bullfighting, Semana Santa - and Carmen. Bizet’s 1875 opera, based on a novella by Prosper Merimee, has been a firm favourite for years, with its tragic story of the beautiful, fiery gypsy girl who works in the cigarette factory, her soldier-turned-smuggler boyfriend, and her bullfighter lover; in the end (spoiler alert) the soldier kills her in a fit of jealous rage. The cigarette factory in the tale, the Real Fabrica de Tabacos, is situated next door to the Alfonso XIII hotel and opposite the Parque Maria Luisa, and is now part of Seville University. It is the setting this summer for an open-air Carmen, by the excellent local theatre company Producciones Imperdibles, as part of the 21 Grados festival of music, theatre and cinema, as well as an exhibition on the original factory and its workers, Bizet and Merimee, gypsies, smugglers and bullfighters.

As part of the Asomate Al Patio season in the Diputacion’s courtyard, you can see Carlos Saura’s film version (14 September), from 1983. Lastly, in October (1, 8 and 15), the Centro Cultural Cajasol is showing see six of the many film versions, made between 1938 and 2003, in their “Carmen en el cine” season. Then, in November (18-28), the Teatro Lope de Vega is hosting an adaptation by the Teatro Clasico de Sevilla. There is even a Carmen route you can follow: it starts by the Torre de Oro, where the cigarette girls waited for the tobacco to arrive by ship at the river quay, and includes the factory, Callejon de Agua, Calle de la Juderia and the Cuartel de la Puerta de la Carne (army barracks), ending up at the bullring.

So that will give you an idea of just how popular Carmen remains in Seville, her pueblo natal. Back in 2004, the biggest ever multi-location, open-air staging of Carmen was going to take place from 2-11 September. It had a budget of 20 million euros, and was to be directed by Carlos Saura, with top international names from the music world: sopranos Angela Gheorgiu and Montserrat Marti in the leading role, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and flamenco guitarists Jose Merce and Tomatito. Sets had been built, costumes made, extras hired, logistics meticulously planned for the cast, crew and 12,000-person audience.

Then, less than a month it was to open, the organisers pulled out, citing financial problems. They left a very, very irate Ayuntamiento, which had spent much time, effort and money planning the whole show, and a very, very disappointed public, both here and all over the world, who had been looking forward to this amazing spectacle, which was to have had three locations: the Fabrica de Tabacos (naturally), Plaza de España, and the bullring, with intervals between each act for everyone to move to the next place. The Paseo Marques de Contadero was to be turned into a 19th-century boulevard, complete with inns and horse-and-carriages. The company responsible, which had staged similar shows in the Forbidden City in Beijing (Turandot) and Luxor (Aida), was called Opera on Original Site, and was the brainchild of Michael Ecker. He was calling this production Carmen en Sevilla.

Now there is talk of resurrecting the idea, partly to erase the bitter aftertaste left by the massive let-down from six years ago. The culture delegate for Sevilla, Maribel Montaño, has announced that the ICAS (Instituto de las Cultura y las Artes de Sevilla) is looking into the possibility of resurrecting the plan which ended in such a high-profile fiasco, as part of its three-year programme of events dedicated to the gypsy girl, under their Myths of Seville season (the other two operatic figures are Figaro and Don Juan). It would be on a smaller, more realistic, scale, with an audience of just 5,000.

If she manages to pull it off, it will be an amazing achievement (both the planning and the show itself), and I will be first in the queue to buy my ticket (providing they promise me a refund in the case of, er, “technical problems”).

  1. One Response to “The many faces of Carmen”

  2. Back in the the late 1960s I studied the novella for my French A level. Steamy stuff for teenage girls! It really captured my imagination and I would certainly travel up from Cadiz to Sevilla to see such a spectacle. I will watch this space with interest!

    By Claire on Jul 28, 2010

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