(For the September 28, 2012 performance)
Richard Eyre’s production is one of the better ones to premiere during the Gelb era. The curtain is a black one with one red stripe through it. This red stripe opens up during the first and third acts to reveal ballet dancers that simulate the passion and intensity of Carmen and Jose’s romance. In the opera’s prelude the dance is set against the dark and fateful music, emphasizing the destruction of the main heroine while in the third act, the ballet is set against the tender intermezzo that serves as the cinematic equivalent of montage to show the brief beauty of the romance between Carmen and Jose.
Carmen, like Mozart’s Don Giovanni, is a tragic-comedy. The opera premiered at the Opera Comique and in a sick way (like Don Giovanni) has a happy ending in which the main character, also an anti-hero of sorts, dies. Whereas the happy ending celebrates the death of the Don in Mozart’s masterwork, the “happy” ending in Carmen celebrates the heroine’s independence and liberty until the very end of her days. Even Bizet is content to delight in this double personality of his work. The prelude starts off with the gallant toreador’s march before being taken over by the aforementioned fateful theme. During Act 3, Carmen sings a fateful lament upon reading the fateful hand of cards she has been dealt while Frasquita and Mercedes sing a joyful theme. This same technique is employed in possibly the most incredible display of dramatic counterpoint in the final act when Jose kills Carmen while the crowd cheers Escamillo’s goring of the bull.