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U3A Writing: Carmen

Barrie Mansell writes about a great operatic temptress.

Our memories of the 1950’s have generally tended to fade, but there are exceptions. Men especially young men, were attracted to daring young women, but they mostly remained forbidden fruit.

Carmen Jones was displayed on the cinemascope screen as a particularly provocative woman, her African American image a challenge to most Anglo Australians; Dorothy Dandridge was a Carmen but not the traditional image or presentation of staid opera we had encountered earlier in our lives.

The film was criticised by many, Oscar Hammerstein had dared to modernise Georges Bizet’s ever popular opera. The figures were all African American. How could they, the Americans have desecrated this European classic?

Despite the criticism it was a successful film, for many, including myself, discovered that opera was not all overweight Italians singing in some unfamiliar language, who seemed unlikely bed mates.

Tradition in presenting opera continues in the major cities of the world, with opera houses, overflowing with formally attired audiences; disappointingly many of the singers remain obese.
Those who do not venture into the metropolitan Opera Houses, may enjoy lesser presentations of opera at other places in casual attire. Perhaps ‘Opera at the Lock’ is their scene, or the world can come to their living room through television or a DVD.

As the years have rolled by many performances of ‘Carmen’ have been presented, many of the Carmen’s have believably suited the role of the wayward Gypsy woman from a factory in Spain, while others miserably failed the sex appeal test.

Last year when Glenn Miller’s presentation of Opera 1, brought forth a DVD with Maria Ewing in a production conducted at Glyndebourne Theatre. This Carmen sizzled and was totally believable in the role. The brief comment from the Sunday Telegraph, ‘Maria Ewing is an electrically vivid Carmen’, sums up how Carmen should perform.

We all have our preferences in music; Bizet’s Carmen offers tradition with spice, especially with Dorothy Dandridge or Maria Ewing evoking the thoughts of dangerous liaisons.

One wonders if Bizet created his own version of a forbidden fruit or did she really exist?


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