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“Solo quiero ser libre!”

November 22, 2010 – 1:31 pm

Carmen Teatro Clasico de Sevilla

Few characters are as closely associated with Seville as Carmen. The Town Hall has been holding a programme of events dedicated to famous (fictional) local personajes, entitled Mitos de Sevilla, of which the much-loved gitana is the first; next year it’s Don Juan’s turn.

One of these events is currently on at the beautiful Teatro Lope de Vega, where the baroque red-and-gold decoration is as impressive as any palace. This production follows the novella by Merimee, used as the basis for Bizet’s famous work. It emphasises a feminist, feisty Carmen, rather than softer heroine of the opera. She is a flirt with a filthy laugh.

Seeing the play in the city where it was originally set is an especially rewarding experience – all those mentions of the river, the Fabrica de Tabacos and Triana. There were also some interesting comments about local behavioural traits – “Las Andaluces estan siempre de broma; nunca dicen nada en serio,” (Andalucian women are always joking about – they’re never serious) comments one of the (male) characters before we’ve even met Carmen, thus setting the scene for Carmen the joker.

When we do see her, she never misses an opportunity to take the piss out of a man, which prompts a so-sexist-it’s-funny comment: “Maldita sea! Las mujeres tiene culpa de todo!” (Bloody hell! Women are to blame for everything!) This Carmen is tough-as-nails, manipulative, even a little diabolical. Her attitude to men, both as a woman and a gitana, is unequivocal: get what you can out of them.

The set is bare, simply decorated with fabric-covered bales (tobacco?) tied with string, which can be built into walls, turned into tables and chairs for a bar, and put into curved benches for a bullring. It is the ultimate in modular stage scenery – quick and easy to move, and wonderfully flexible.

While there’s no music as such, Carmen does sing and dance seductively for her men (the Teniente, Jose the soldier-turned-smuggler, and the bullfighter), and wears a frilly flamenco-ish skirt and a red rose in her hair. She sits with legs astride, showing the tops of her stockings – the ultimate come-and-get-it-if-you’re-man-enough posture.

Somewhat inexplicably, the setting changes towards the end of the play, from the mid-1830s (the original time context, when the novella was written) to present day. So Carmen switches to a slinky black corset with tights and high heels, while male characters sport ponytails, sunglasses and mobile phones, looking like Costa del Sol gangsters.

At the end, Jose wants Carmen to be his wife and settle down with him in Navarra, but she tells him plainly that she’s not interested (“I can’t see myself planting tomatoes”). He begs and pleads (“I can’t live without you, don’t leave me”), but she just says “El unico que quiero es hacer lo que me da las ganas” (I just want to do whatever I feel like) and “Naci libre y seguire libre” (I was born free, and that’s how I’ll stay). She is stubborn and strong-willed, and this costs her her life, as the spurned Jose stabs her, saying “Eres mia” (you’re mine) to a noisy backdrop of a Spanish football match, complete with flag-waving, applause and victory cheers.

It all looked good, and had plenty of bursts of humour – the tobacco factory’s guards were comical idiots who spoke in broad Sevillano accents. But the passion, the sexual chispa (spark) between Carmen and Jose just wasn’t there. You need a strong physical presence as a couple to grab the audience in a theatre – they have to be hooked on your every word, rooting for you, and this wasn’t the case (for me, at least). Having said that, it was enjoyable and I’d recommend it – it`s on till 28 November, next Sunday.

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