Saw the notorious new production of Carmen directed by Spanish maverick Calixto Bieito. Irene Roberts and Brian Jagde sang Carmen and Don Jose the night we went. Roles were double cast, so can’t speak for what things might have sounded like on other dates.
The whole thing was set in the 50’s. We’d just been to Cuba, so the old cars on stage suggested the Caribbean in a way Bieito didn’t intend and probably spoke that way to no one else. There were some controversial moves, undoubtedly intended to shock and alienate–a simulated BJ behind a car with an actual bared male butt visible. Some simulated, fully clothed, sex between the principals. Much of the costuming, or lack of it, and atmosphere was very attractive to San Francisco’s Castrophiles. Still and all, not really shocking or gratuitous, except maybe the BJ. What bothered me most was Bieito’s lack of directorial fundamentals, which undercut some truly wonderful performances. Roberts and Jagade sang splendidly, and their acting traced the arc of the Carmen-Don Jose relationship with clarity and truth. The dependence, defiance, self-destruction. Heart-rending. The orchestra was out of this world. Even better than usual. However, there were a number of crucial dead spots where the drama just plain stalled. A partying group drives on stage, drunk and laughing beginning, I think, Act 2. That’s all for what seemed like two minutes. A looooong time on stage. Then some music begins and people start piling out and preparing for a picnic. At last, we are relieved, to see some action. We haven’t been in suspense, just bored. Later, the smugglers hear there are cops on the way. They pack up their stuff to conceal their activities. But with no sense of urgency. Casual, relaxed, slowly so the audience, too feels Casual, relaxed. Ho and hum and another day in the life. Those moments drain so much energy out of a production for me that no amount of wonderful music can replace. So, instead of a super production with some notorious moments, we are left with a mediocre production with some soft-porn asides. Disappointing. I’d choose anger over boredom any day. And I’m still waiting to see a Carmen who can dance. . . Maybe that’s asking too much.