Directed by Francesco Rosi.
Starring Julia Migenes, Plácido Domingo, Ruggero Raimondi and Faith Esham.
A soldier falls in love with a beautiful factory worker but his feelings are not reciprocated.
I know absolutely nothing about opera. I dabble amateurishly in appreciating classical music because my curiosity was stirred by my love of soundtracks and film scores. This is the only thin claim I can make towards even an ounce of musical sophistication. I am also embarrassingly partial to the odd musical. But like most men I find it impossible to suppress irritation and disbelief at spontaneous outbursts of song, particularly when such musical numbers contain the clumsy lyrics of ordinary conversation.
Within the first twenty minutes of watching this “extensively restored” 1984 Francesco Rosi adaptation of Carmen, I was annoyed numerous times by the ridiculous, operatic belting out of phrases like “I shall come back when the relief guard replaces the old guard”. There is something more laughable than usual about it when it’s all spelled out in subtitles.
Having said this I also recognised two iconic songs and pieces of music that transcend the opera they are a part of in the first twenty minutes. These sequences were enjoyable with their catchy melodies, powerful voices and at times, more suitably poetic lyrics.
Gradually the plot of Carmen began to take shape independently of the occasionally uninteresting and irritating piece of music. It did grab me at times, if not all the time, especially when Carmen herself, played by Julia Migenes, was onscreen. It’s the story of Carmen, the beautiful girl from the local tobacco factory, who is “free with her love”, and seduces the officer Don Jose at Seville’s nearby garrison to fall in love with her. He sacrifices everything for his all consuming unrequited love for her, only for her to choose another.
Written by Frenchman Georges Bizet, Carmen premiered in Paris way back in 1875, to atrocious reviews and takings. Apparently it was divisive because it combined elements of serious opera, without dialogue in between, and comic opera, which had light hearted conversational speech dotted throughout. According to IMDb this was the first film version to use spoken dialogue as Bizet intended.
Bizet wouldn’t live to see the popularity of Carmen’s serious themes, so he certainly wouldn’t have foreseen a cultural philistine like me humming along to a variety of identifiable tunes throughout, without realising that they had come from his work. He surely couldn’t have imagined the scale and vivid colour of this restored edition either, playing loudly and sensually in the comfort of living rooms for Carmen and Coldplay fans alike.
Perhaps Carmen would not be my usual cup of tea but it was a sporadically enjoyable slice of culture. It explores the forever universal theme of unrequited love, with some extremely emotionally affecting moments, despite an abundance of implausible and distracting ones. There are far too many overly dramatic reversals on the whole for me though.
But for opera fans it is almost certainly a must. My gripes lie not with the production but with my ignorance of the art form. This restored version comes complete with an expensive looking case and over an hour of special features, including a peak behind the scenes of the set and detailed interviews with cast and crew.
Liam Trim (follow me on Twitter)
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