natural order. part of nature. of life — which has no set structure. So for her the police or the army is the total antithesis to her beliefs. She is a woman who has a genuine world outlook that comes from her whole relations with the gypsy world. I‘d even go so far as to say it‘s like the
world of Shiva in India: it's a sense of
relationship. where man is connected with thunder. with wind. with the elements — but not connected with social order. The extreme opposite you could say is what the whole of Western Civilisation and Culture are built Carmen is in some ways the opposite — a powerful. small-scale production with an onstage 16 piece orchestra (drawn on this occasion from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra). It is based. however. on the same urge to pull the audience into the real power ofthe story.
‘It‘s not like a normal Carmen that you can see in any opera house.‘ explains Brook. ‘It could be — one could do a vastly spectacular Carmen that would far outdo the spectacle of
The Mahabharata. But here the aim was to do something totally intimate and not spectacular at all.‘
Brook has called grand opera and the conventions that surround it ‘deadly theatre carried to absurdity". The star system. inﬂated ticket prices and extravagant spectacle are the antithesis to the simplicity. spontaneity and accessibility he has sought to achieve. “is Carmen. first performed in 1981. is stripped down to the central story. performed in 90 minutes in a red earth bullring. This version. arrived at with Jean-Claude Carriere and Marius Constant. draws on both Bizet‘s opera and Merimee‘s original story.
‘My first basic decision to do it was because I was convinced that when Bizet wrote this opera. he got the inspiration by reading Merimee.‘ says Brook. "l‘he original story is very short and very sparsely written. It‘s like the best Graham Greene where not a word is too many — marvellously clear and spare. goes straight to the bone. And I‘m certain that Bizet‘s original image was of
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something inspired by the story. but as other people got involved gradually it got blown up. until it became like the fat man with the thin man inside trying to get out.
‘The thin man inside is not the Merimee story, but the Merimee spirit. which is sparse and intense. The opera. I think. has been blown up to become this opera that/is upon: this concept that you can only live together through law and order.
‘And so the tragedy is that neither Carmen nor Don Jose can go beyond a certain point. Don Jose is an interesting man. though. In both the story and the opera there’s a reference to the fact that at the age of sixteen he was sent away from his village because he nearly killed someone in a fight. So this soldier has this strange. wild streak, that he can‘t understand - but is there. totally repressed. Carmen releases in him this whole other sense of life — and. ofcourse, he can‘t cope with thatf
To get across the power of the story theatrically. Brook and the singers worked together for months, trying. as Brook has said. to find ‘a highly charged body that is not asleep the way ou.r bodies are most of the time‘. Again, in contrast to the normal rehearsal conditions of opera, where star singers are often flown in at the last moment. they worked as an ensemble. Actors who have worked with Brook say he has an extraordinary capacity to guide them without telling them what to do. But if the actors discovered the Carmen in themselves. I wonder whether the power of the production lies partly in touching an ‘other sense of life‘ in the audience?
‘Yes. I think so,‘ says Brook. "l‘hat‘s why I think it‘s very stupid to just put Carmen down as being the first feminist and all that. It is a feminine quality that is in every man and every woman. For instance in Scotland. among people as humorous and down-to-earth as the Scots. somewhere there‘s this world of myth and legend that‘s ready to be awakened. And that‘s in a way a similar thing.’
‘Carmen is different from The Mahabharata because Carmen doesn‘t carry with it the intellectual experience. But you do have this pure and simple involvement through the power ofmusic, which is never an intellectual experience. There‘s this marvellous line in King Lear where Gloucester says “I see it feelingly“. I think you hear opera feelingly. Or you should. I think that opera can have a tremendous appeal because one wants to be touched. The emotional part of man has been very rarely refreshed and nourished over recent years. In an opera house you can be touched again — and everyone‘s very relieved to be touched.‘
La Tragedie de Carmen has sixteen performances between 10 & 30 April at The Tramway, Glasgow. See Theatre Listings.
Trevor Johnston finds Glasgow Grand Opera unfazedrby international rivalry.
Glasgow Grand Opera President Alec Laurie is understandably a little bemused by it all. 'We‘ve had our production slotth in since last July. and nobody told us that someone else was going to be doing it as well. We were all a wee bit surprised when we found out‘ says Alec. He is. of course. talking about Glasgow‘s April outbreak of Carmens. for while the Glasgow Grand are treading the boards at the Kings Theatre (17—22) with their version of Bizet‘s well-loved opera. there the small matter of. er. the other one (Tramway Theatre. April 10—31)). lnnes however. is determined that the amateurs‘ production is not to be wholly over-awed: ‘Well. they‘re very different obviously but ours is the complete Carmen that people know and love. and not a kind of streamlined version of it. Actually. come to think of it. we have cut some of the Toreador‘s part. But mostly it‘s complete.‘
Lay your preconceptions about am dram. or rather am op. aside however: not for this lot the catalogue ofscenery chewing and missed cues; they‘re far too experienced for that. having gone through most of the repertoire since their formation in 1906.
What does mark it out as an
amateur presentation. though. is that the principals have to be very careful with their voices. so the solution was to have two Carmens. A bit like the other one. Sort of.
Caran on Tuesday. Thursday and Saturday is the Dundee (‘ourier‘s very own llelen Brown. An enthusiast who‘s appeared in several Tayside musicals. she‘d been having technical singing lessons for a couple of years before deciding to have a bash at the Glasgow Grand. On Monday. Wednesday. Friday and the Saturday matinee on the other hand. the marvellously named Lottie llorsman will be locked in operatic and romantic entanglement with her Don Jose. She spent four years at Edinburgh University before realising that what she really wanted to do was sing: ‘l‘ve been going to a music tutor for about four years now, and it‘s more or less been like doing a music degree the hard way.’
Both Carmens promise an energetic and sometimes violent production that will examine the darker side of the characters. but because their own personalities within the roles are so different. they have some advice for the prospective Bizet buff: ‘You‘ll get the full spectrum of the piece if you see both ofus over a couple of nights.‘ Lottie describes llelen as very ‘vibrant‘. while Helen thinks Lottie is ‘rather Iyrical‘. Oh. yes and you might have a peek at the other one as well. It orin for the purposes of comparison.
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