I'd never been to an opera, on account of all the hollerin', until yesterday. I was persuaded to dip my toe into the subject with a free ticket to a performance of Carmen at USM in Hattiesburg. I'm still processing the experience as it was not quite what I expected. The conventions of musical theatre are, to me, absurd. I don't much like non-operatic musical theater, either, because why break into song when you could just talk? It's ridiculous. Nonetheless, I gave it a try.
People make like opera is this big intellectual serious stuff, but Carmen? Carmen is fluff. It's pretty noises and costumes and a little acting. It's good hair and ruffly dresses. How seriously can you take it, really? I couldn't at all. Which is not to say that an evening at Carmen with good company was the worst thing I could've done on a Thursday evening. It just wasn't at all what I expected.
I noted with interest the tissue-thin plot (if you can even call it a plot), the total lack of character development, and the pretty songs and music. I also noted with interest the contrast between the seductress, dark-haired, gypsy Carmen in her red and black, and the sweetly virginal, pale Micaela, dressed in the blue and white of the Virgin Mary. Naturally Micaela is a soprano, Carmen a mezzo. Women of questionable or dangerous sexuality can't be sopranos, with their innocent, girlish voices! It also, honestly, takes forever for anything to happen. Practically nothing happened in the first act. They spent ten minutes singing about how they were going to stand around the square, smoke, and chat. Maybe twenty minutes; I'm not sure, because it felt like forever.
There was an entire sequence about how seductive the smoking women were, how the smoke was intoxicating, etc., but: no one was smoking! I realize singers don't smoke, it's bad for you, but really, it's fucking absurd to sing about intoxicating tobacco smoke without at least pretending to smoke.
There was a really rotund toreador. I'm all for fat actors, but seriously: a toreador? Those guys are usually rail-thin. When it came time for the chubby toreador and the stout Don Jose to have a knife fight, it really got absurd. These guys were just not built for action sequences.
I must say: the guy who played Don Jose wasn't just singing, he was *acting*, and he was good at it. He kind of reminded me of Jack Black, and I mean that in the best possible way. Carmen was acting, too, but the character is impenetrable, clearly written by a man. She is a cruel seductress, switching from one man to the next every so often, and for this, she dies. Never mind that Don Jose abandoned his fiancee and became a criminal for Carmen, that's okay. It's not his fault. Carmen put a spell on him.
The final scene, when he alternates from pleading and begging to violent rage, frankly made me nauseous. It's domestic violence writ as romance. The first time he slapped her, the romance was over for me. When he wept after killing her, I felt nothing but disgust that he didn't go ahead and off himself. You know? Fuck that guy. She bailed on him, so he killed her. It's the oldest, ugliest story in the world.
In conclusion: opera, just like every other cultural production, is a tool of the patriarchy. It just happens to have pretty music to sweeten the poisonous message.
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