. FEATURE LIST
Scottish Opera have assembled a stunning cast for their first ever production of Bizet’s immortal opera, Carmen. Sally Kinnes met some of them.
When Emily Golden sings Carmen at Glasgow‘s Theatre Royal on Tuesday 30th it will be her 86th performance. The first eighty-five were for Peter Brook’s highly successful version which began in Paris and toured extensively to universal acclaim for two years. She was. she says. the only member of the cast who didn’t get ill.
It is an exhausting part for the singer who is almost never offstage. She has to sing her way through enticement. seduction, ﬂirtation, capriciousness and death. Carmen isn’t mysterious. but she is magnetic. Playing her has. for Emily Golden, been an antithetical process. Not a particularly happy child, she grew up with an inferiority complex about herself. never thinking she was intelligent enough or pretty enough. ‘I don’t think ofmyselfas a particularly glamorous. beautiful or attractive woman,’ she says, her beautiful big eyes and high cheek bones contradicting everything she
‘I’m not a thief or a struggler or a whore’
says. Carmen on the other hand is ﬂamboyant and compelling. Diffidcnce and self-doubt are not in her frame of reference. Vital rather than loveable, she is one ofthe most passionate and least understanding of characters. She is an enigma with whom the rest of the world is out of step.
With all the parts Emily plays, she goes for the common ground first. With Carmen she looked less to the everday things she does (‘I’m not a thief or a smuggler or a whore’) than to her soul. ‘She has something other people don‘t have, something in her spirit which other people want. They know they don‘t have it and they flock to her because they know that she does. It’s power’. She cites
Henry Kissinger as a male equivalent. Looks or logic don’t come into it.
Carmen is one of the best-known and most popular of all the classical operas. Its accessibility has not blunted its effect and in the past few years its narrative has yielded a remarkable number of highly original interpretations — as dance, film, TV and opera.
Put to Bizet’s powerful dramatic purpose are a number of rich and highly successful characterisations: the ‘machismo dude’ who kills bulls,
Escamillo (of the famous ‘Toreador’ ‘l song), the free-spirited Carmen and 1 Don 1056. her helpless lover and
l murderer who compromises himself 3 out ofsignificance. He is played in
; this production by Gary Bachlund,
l changing from cheerful soldier,
beloved of Micaela from his home town, until beloved ofCarmen, there is nothing left. ‘And when there’s nothing left, that’s what
4 Thefi—stbl‘) Sept — 2 -
Emily Golden and Gary Bachlund
degradation is. Then options like murder seem to be so normal.’ Gary Bachlund was, until 1983, first a buyer for a chain of department stores and then a computer and calculator salesman. He was always interested in singing but wasn’t exactly encouraged to follow a musical career (‘Don’t be a jerk’) and so took ‘furtive’ music classes at university between the science and pre-med courses he
began with. Going to New York on a whim (he had really intended to go to Hawaii) he rang the Met on the off-chance that they were hearing people from out of town. A subsequent audition led to his first engagement — at the Carnegie Hall. Graham Vick heard him there and brought him to Scotland for this production.
J osé’s moral collapse is the greatest tragedy of the story, but because he ends as a broken spirit, it is Carmen Who, unjustly, retains our interest. Unapologetic and uncompromising, she never negotiates anything and even with J osé’s last and most desperate gesture, she is incapable of conceding his claim to tragedy.
Everybody changes except Carmen. She is the catalyst, but one
for which no one is any better off. She is untouched. “Her death is not a tragedy to her’ says Emily. ‘It’s a surprise- I don’t think she expects him to knife her, or at least not then — but she wouldn’t look back and think it was a tragedy.‘
Carmen’s music, significantly, remains consistent throughout. It is not convoluted or anxious, but straightforward in an almost stereotyped way. lose on the other hand, almost never repeats a musical phrase as he changes continually, increasingly losing his moral ground. Each of the parts shapes, musically, a psychological profile of each character. ‘When I sing,’ says Gary ‘it’s not the same music as when Carmen sings. In a lot ofthe sort of nurdle, nurdle, nurdle Italian operas
.I’d be singing exactly the same
music, but say, thirds apart — two characters, one thought.’ Here there is a stylistic identity to each of them. On the thorny question of whether to sing in English or in the original, they acknowledge a dilemma between the wish to be accessible to
.an audience and the appropriateness
of musical sounds to the language for which they were written. ‘Singers unanimously prefer to sing in an
original language because it’s easier vocally. The music was set to a certain phrase or syntax and that tends to be more comfortable’ says Emily. Changing the language isn’t a barrier but it is more work — especially if for another engagement they have to re-learn the whole part in another translation. For the singer. too, it puts the feel ofthe music very differently. ‘Having worked a phrase into your voice on a certain set ofvowels it feels completely different ifyou supplant those vowels with different ones.’ As Americans also, they both found this
I thought ‘they can’t be serious’ version of ‘English’ was not without its oddities for them. ‘I thought “they can’t be serious” ,’ says Emily describing her first contact with the unfamiliar colloquialisms, in this new version. written by Anthony Burgess. This is the secondlibretto for Scottish opera by the linguistic master, who admits nevertheless that writing opera libretto is the most difficult thing in the world.
There is also the problem of whether it is going to be a translation or, very differently, a re-write. This production will be an English re-write. ‘They are trying to make it sound as idiomatic and colourful in English as they can in a way to which the French does not lend itself,’ says Emily. No one, they say, is ever going to hand you an Italian opera re-written in Italian.
Gary suggests a literary parallel: ‘Imagine you are going to perform something like Joyce’s Ulysses with all its convoluted layers of meaning
and puns and the composer says. ‘Terrific— we’ll do it in German.‘
Carmen began as a convention-rocking scandal in Paris in 1875, whose audiences only saw its cigarette-smoking, male-seducing ladies and shocking end to the heroine upstaging its dramatic potential. Tchaikovsky, in Paris at the time, apparently predicted that within ten years it would become the world’s most popular opera.
Where opera is so often accused of artifice, Carmen is upsettineg real. ‘Ifyou put Carmen and Don Jose together’ says Gary. ‘you‘d wind up with a regular person — tearing himselfapart.’
Carmen, performed by Scottish
Opera, will be at the Theatre Royal. Glasg0w30 September and 4, ll, 10. 24, 27 October; the Empire.
Liverpool 4 and 8 November; the King’s, Edinburgh 11 and I4 , November; His Majesty's, Aberdeen E 19 and 22 November and New Tyne. I Newcastle, 25 and 29 November. J