Montreal, August 15, 2018 – The Opéra de Montréal is proud to announce an added performance of the opera Carmen by Bizet on May 13, 2019. This is an all-new production conceived and directed by renowned Quebec filmmaker Charles Binamé. After a more than 14-year absence from our stage, Carmen is already drawing great numbers of opera fans!
A first for filmmaker Charles Binamé
Charles Binamé (director of, among others, Eldorado, Maurice Richard-The Rocket, and Heart of Stone) is directing his first opera, an experience he describes as “an unexpected dream come true for a director, given the extent to which this art form is the sum of all human and technical means brought together to convey the full scope of a story.” Under Binamé’s direction, an exceptional Canadian cast will give audiences an opportunity to peek into the characters’ souls and to fully experience Bizet’s vibrant music. In the words of the stage director, “Carmen’s hymn to freedom is a cry rising above the hindrances of a society finding its bearings in a century in which exoticism and prejudice are in the wind, and in which the dualities of reason and passion, and life and death, will inevitably collide.” Patrick Corrigan, General Director of the Opéra de Montréal, states: “The Opéra de Montréal wants to be a place where exciting artists from our terroir, working in all disciplines, can come together to make opera that uniquely from here, and for the world.”
Also of note: the Opéra de Montréal’s 38th season kicks off on Saturday, September 15 with the presentation of Rigoletto. Canadian baritone James Westman (Rigoletto) and Canadian soprano Myriam Leblanc (Gilda) are the headliners.
A dynamic young cast takes on Carmen with the energy and spirit required to bring to life this passionate drama of unrivaled power, a testament to the incredible talent found in Canada. Following her success in the role of Sadia (Starmania by Luc Plamondon), Krista de Silva returns to portray Carmen, an extraordinarily strong woman who will trade her life for her desire for freedom. Alongside her in the role of Don José, a corporal dominated by his obsessive passion for Carmen, is Antoine Bélanger, one of the country’s leading lyric tenors. Soprano France Bellemare and baritone Christopher Dunham, both trained at the Atelier lyrique and already busy with promising international careers, complete the lovestruck quartet as the young and innocent Micaëla and the virile toreador Escamillo. Pascale Spinney (Mercedes), Magali Simard-Galdès (Frasquita), Cesar Naassy (Zuniga), Éric Thériault (Le Remendado), and Dominique Côté (Le Dancaïre) complete the dazzling cast. The Orchestre Métropolitain and the Opéra de Montréal Chorus perform Bizet’s music under the seasoned baton of Alain Trudel. Alain Lortie’s lighting showcases magnificent sets by Olivier Landreville and costumes by Dominique Guindon.
The Story: The Price of Freedom
Carmen is a free and liberated woman who wants to experience love, her sexuality, and life as she sees fit. Don José, a corporal from a good family who is in the habit of suppressing his desires, can no longer control himself once he meets Carmen, who awakens in him a desire for freedom that leads him to abandon his fiancée Micaëla and his mother. Unable to take responsibility for his choices and to accept Carmen for the free person she is, Don José is psychologically torn apart.
Carmen presents a fatal clash—between Carmen, a “gypsy” woman from a modest background, and Don José, a white man from a well-off family—much like a corrida. The opera’s power resides in the fact that, at the end, we don’t know whether Carmen was the matador or the bull…
The Work: Carmen, the work of a lifetime
After years without a clear sense of direction, a multitude of projects started and then abandoned, and a few completed operas that were less than enthusiastically received by critics, Georges Bizet finally found his voice with Carmen. The subject inspired him to write his most original music, leading the composer to incorporate musical elements from cabaret (like the Afro-Cuban piece “El Arreglito” by Sébastián Yradier, which would become Carmen’s famous “Habanera”), into his richly colourful and chromatic music, all the while respecting (and innovating) French operatic forms. In the words of musicologist Susan McClary, “The scandal—and also the genius—of Carmen lies in Bizet’s decision to bring those mutually exclusive worlds [symphonies and respectable operas on the one hand, and brothels and cabarets on the other], his Jekyll and Hyde polarities, together on the stage of the Opéra-Comique. Opera hasn’t been the same since.” (Carmen as Perennial Fusion: From Habanera to Hip-Hop, 2005, page 205). Unfortunately, the originality of the music (the director of the Opéra-Comique called it “Cochin-Chinese”), the audacity of presenting a female character as “dangerous” as Carmen, and depicting her brutal murder on stage complicated rehearsals for Carmen, delayed its presentation before an audience, and inspired a very critical early reception of the work. Despite its few defenders and a great number of performances of the opera, Bizet felt demoralized and stressed. He died suddenly on June 3, 1875, on the evening of the 33rd performance of Carmen, at the age of just thirty-seven, never knowing that his name would forever live on, and leaving us to regret all that he could have continued to contribute to French opera.
While Carmen had to wait until 1883 before reappearing on the French stage, it was already enjoying great success in Austria and Germany as early as 1875, rapidly furthering its reach all around the world. The dramatic energy that pulses through the work, the strength of its characters (with all of their ambivalences), and the power of its music give it a universal dimension, one that was even recognized by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In Carmen, nothing is black and white, no one is entirely good or bad. This uncertainty perturbs us and continuously leads us to revisit the story of Carmen to look for new answers. One of the world’s most frequently performed operas, which has also been adapted for the screen some twenty-four times, Carmen haunts us and lives within us, forcing us to confront the eternal question of the price of freedom.