“carmen” for advanced beginners

Last week, i took my older sister and 4-yr-old nephew to see the rebroadcast of the M E T “Carmen” with Elīna Garanča in the title role.  The nephew tag-along was a last minute variation thanks to a last minute baby-sit cancellation.  Nephew lasted 50 minutes which I thought was amazing.  Then he started singing very loudly, so it was time for some cô-cháu (aunt-nephew) bonding on the escalator outside the theater.  1.5 hr later, sister came out, super charged and happy declaring her love for opera.  She came home, did extensive research on “Carmen” on the internet as well as browsed through all available clips of Garanča’s singing on Youtube.  So, natually, I gave her my favorite clip, u know, this one:

(and also this one to show my favorite singer with Garanča).  Her conclusion: definitely likes Garanča better because Frau K looks “too angry”.

After some discussions over yummi vietnamese phở, it’s established that unfortunately, “good looks” sell better.   I’m the first to admit when I first saw Frau G at the 1st rebroadcast, I almost didn’t hear her singing because I was too busy staring!  Actually, it was also because I had spent the full month before that listening to my favorite recording of “Carmen” with VK singing in Vienna.  So, when it was Frau G’s turn , I kept on comparing rather than just enjoying her performance.  Anyhow, it’s not just a coincidence that I chose this particular production to introduce my sister (or anyone else) to opera.  It’s a massive production with a deadly good looking Carmen with a voice to match, a full ballet/flamenco dance sequence, an action-packed show from beginning to end just in case anyone is slightly bored with the “singing” and the music.  Here, you can see a sample for yourself:

I do like “Carmen”, a lot.  I think for me it totally depends on the singers.  I’m curious where I heard “Habanera” from in the first place**, but apparently everyone is somehow familiar with this aria.  Several years ago, I went searching for the origin of this song and was quite amazed to find that it belongs to a WHOLE 3-hr opera.  So i downloaded (shhh) a full recording w/ Callas, and attempted several times but never quite finished it.   Fastforward to last year, after an introduction to this whole mezzo-trouser goodness, I also found a recording with Frau K.  For me, VK’s clip is “it” for me, something which completely stopped me on my track, got my full attention, every single time.   After many many full round on repeats, I know most of the work by heart.  So, here’re some things for advanced beginners to look for besides “Habanera” while listening to / watching Carmen:


Carmen: “Habanera“, “la séguedille”, “chanson bohème” ,”Je vais danser en votre honneur“,
Micaëla: “c’est votre mère qui m’envoie” (1st half of clip), “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante
Don José: “Ma mère, je la vois!.. oui, je revois mon village!” (2nd half of clip), “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”,
Escamillo: “Toréador”
Frasquita & Mercédès: “Dites-nous qui nous aimera!”


Not all stagings are as fancy as that in the M E T’s production.  In fact, the more fancy it is, the more distraction one gets from the actual singing of course.  For example, the Zürich’s staging where Frau K made her Carmen debut had simply a chair and a table (see first clip above).  At this point, unless you’re in for the music rather than the looks, it could get quite challenging.  I admit i was at first taken aback by this.  must keep open mind.

The plot:

So, everyone has seen Carmen portrayed similar to that in the M E T ‘s clip above.  What about a different intepretation?  I’ve read many singers’ plead to the public to be more open-minded.  It’s indeed sad if everything is the same one production after another or if the audience would start booing when the staging/interpretion are different (which happened a lot lately i read).  Now that i’ve progressed to “advanced beginner” level, i’ve developed a better appreciation for uniqueness and authenticity, i think…

So, this post is long enough, and i should be sleeping… i hope u enjoy listening to Carmen as well. i leave you with my favorite singer’s view about the role Carmen (courtesy of Smorgy’s translation):

As a woman; to be independent is to be free. To Carmen people have attached many cliché: suitors, flower, hip… This is too trivial! That is wrong and not fair. Carmen is an emancipated woman. Carmen is free. And that is what bothers men…
I’m not Carmen. I merely portray her. I know what I want, however, in order to achieve it I cushion my iron will with cotton wool. I have learned to deal diplomatically with others. I am more cautious than Carmen. She is exactly the way she speaks. She is a radical. I admire her for that but I won’t let anyone stab me to death.


**edit: yes, found out how i got into “habanera” in the first place, from younger sister! she downloaded Callas’ version and gave to me.

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

8 Responses to “carmen” for advanced beginners

  1. idlehouse says:

    you sure there are other readers besides moi ? ;))

  2. Vita says:

    Ahhh Frau K always divides the audience…. I must admit I do prefer her rendition. Garanča well she is always technically good but for me she is missing something. It is probably something to do with the interpretations of Carmen…. Frau K was definately latched on to the new interpretation of Carmen of being an emancipated women and that comes out in the singing.

    Well thanks thadeiu for adding to the whole Frau K commentary. I will look out for more!

  3. thả diều says:

    hallo Vita, thanks for stopping by. when i first saw frau K, i was a bit taken aback by her intensity. however, after i read the libretto, it completely makes sense (to me at least) why she sings certain way. I think the divisive opinions have something to do with the notion of how “beautiful” a song has to be, sometimes, at the expense of the drama :-).

  4. dehggial says:

    looks like you already knew what to look for even back then 😉

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