Georges Bizet’s Carmen

The other player in this ill-fated triangle is a celebrity matador named Escamillo, for whom Carmen discards the ruined Don Jos. The opera reaches its climax outside the arena where Escamillo is to challenge a bull. There, Don Jos confronts Carmen, begging for her to return to him, but she cruelly refuses. In his misery and loss, Don Jos stabs her to death. The opera ends as Escamillo, victorious from the ring, discovers the lifeless body of Carmen with a bloodied Don Jos sobbing over her.
Several years ago, I attended a production of Carmen and, though it was sung in English, I had a great deal of difficulty following the story. In addition, I remember thinking that the English text sounded forced and contrived-almost humorous in places. In preparation for this assignment, and as a review of the opera, I viewed the Metropolitan Opera’s 1987 production starring Agnes Baltsa in the title role. The opera was sung in French with English subtitles provided.
What first struck me about the Met’s production was how well the text and music seemed to mesh. Though I am by no means fluent in French, it was immediately apparent that the musical themes were much more intimately joined with the French text than was the case with the English version I had attended previously. One other surprise was the fact that the solos, particularly the better-known arias, are simply more lyrical when sung in French.
As I mentioned, Carmen was my first foray into the world of opera, and while reviewing it, I was surprised at how much of the music I remembered. The opening bars of the Overture-the brisk, march-like theme heard again at the opening of Act IV-are unmistakable and remind me more of a Sousa march than an operatic overture. As well, I recognized the Act I aria sung by Carmen outside the cigarette factory (I have since learned that this piece is called Habanera) during which Don Jos first glimpses Carmen and falls in love with her. (The Metropolitan Opera 1)
I suppose my opinions about opera in general have been that the music is overly dramatic, the women overly large, and the plot lines overly romanticized. I was surprised to find, while viewing the Met’s production, that Carmen reversed these opinions. Agnes Baltsa as Carmen was beautiful, seductive and captivating. Her rich mezzo-soprano was remarkably agile, particularly in the Habanera. Jos Carreras, as Don Jos, was handsome and masculine. Bizet scored this role for a tenor, but Carreras’ voice seemed to me more of a high baritone, as his tone was rich and full, even in the upper register. His portrayal of the poor discredited and discarded corporal was compelling, and I was drawn into his tragedy to the point that, by the final act, I was ready to "do in" Carmen myself.
The Metropolitan Opera production of 1987 was lavish in its costuming and staging-more so certainly than the live production I had attended. The trade-off, of course, is that the scope of the stage production was much greater, even if the costuming, sets, etc. were not. The plot and stage action of Carmen are fast-paced. There are a great many people moving across the stage-villagers, children, soldiers, smugglers, bull