#16 Carmen

Philadelphia, 2018

This is going to be my sisters first opera. I have no doubt she is going to identify with the passion of Carmen. We could both raise some hell a few decades ago. She is now the warm-hearted matriarch and ‘mamma bear’ to everyone she knows, so I’m so happy she stole a few hours away from work and the kids to share the evening with me. With her Italian blood how could she not love it.

Before the opera we grab a bite at Jose Pistoles and I tell her about my visit to Spain, the country of Carmen.

Spain, 2010

We are in Pamplona to watch the bulls run. Me and Ray watch the crowds in white and red outfits, both young and old, drink and party the night away until bottles shatter and people randomly piss and throw up in the streets. The grooves of cobblestone must be a bitch to clean. It’s too late to go back to the hostel so we sleep on the ledge of a supermarket window only to wake early to what sounds like an army. Sanitation workers with brooms and hoses push down the street to erase evidence of the evenings fun. The camera crews begin to set up to clean streets and a romantic sun that still wears a veil of morning haze.. 

Turns out I’m no Hemingway. I do not run with the bulls, and “I almost ran with the bulls,” doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as “I ran with the bulls,” so no one is buying me beer and my cheeks aren’t full of lipstick. The energy pours from local balconies in anticipation of the run. Alas, I did join a small group of men stretching on a cobbled street between the wooden barricades and tightly wound row homes not far from where the bulls are released.

Facts: There will be a calamity if a bunch of people running away from giant bulls run into another group of people not yet running as fast. We weren’t alone in this miscalculation and as more and more people joined us I began to get claustrophobic as they pressed in closer and closer. It was easy to imagine how people can be trampled to death in crowds. Instinctively and desperately I reached up to a curled iron girder of a balcony above me to pull myself up to safety.

Traveling isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it’s harrowing, but you learn things you can’t learn from photographs. Like the townspeople grease the railings of their balconies, specifically so small and scared travelers like myself cannot pull themselves up and ruin their party. Just then the police came an officer thrust a stiff armed billy club against my chest hard enough to take the  breath out of me and then shoved me out of the path of the bulls toward the now opened barricades. I only saw the bulls run. We continued the rest of our northern loop of Spain un-punctured, which I guess was maybe for the best, being so full of tapas and beer. 

My ‘best old ex friend Ray’ cool as always sits in the square strumming his guitar with a group of hash smoking locals, and lIke Jim Croce he is an incredible guitar player. Musics power to draw a crowd and set a mood will always amaze me and I’m happy he brought his along and joined me for the trip.

So what is Carmen all about? Carmen opens with women leaving work from a factory while a group of men cat call them except for Don Jose’ who is distracted by visiting ‘hometown girl’ Micaela, who has brought him a letter from his mother. Good reason or not, who does he think he is to ignore Carmen? She is irresistible. She drips with with passion. She tosses him a flower to get his attention and Jose’ falls fast and hard in love with her.

Jose’ is doomed by his infatuation. What’s wrong with Micaela I wonder, who is delightful and loyal? But, Jose’ pursues Carmen only to find her moved on and flirting with other guys. Jose’ gets into jealous fights and Carmen seems to have lost interest in him as a suitor. Will he let it go and live happily ever after back home with Micaela or will his obsession turn tragic? Carmen has been honest from the beginning stating that, ‘love is free and obeys no rules.’ But, when Jose finds Carmen and Escamillo together near the end, he confronts her outside the bullring where they argue and she tells him she was, ‘born free…’

Notes on the production

Great production all around and Becky loved it.

*Carmen raises an interesting question about classical opera for the modern audience. Themes and references in old operas can be cringe worthy to contemporary audiences. For example, bullfighting and ‘toxic masculinity’ are big themes in this opera. Should it be censored? Should it be omitted from the repertoire? I don’t think so and a lot of companies are sensitive to the disconnect of the content of these classical operas and our current sensibilities. I would argue if their is a hierarchy of importance in opera, first is the orchestra and the expression of human emotion and universal themes like love, duty, and obsession and I think uncomfortable content can be an opportunity for conversation and education. What was the world, what is the world, and what do we want the world to be.

**Bull fighting, but for a few places, is humanely a thing of the past, As abhorrent as I find it, the metaphor of humanities resilient struggle against nature is a strong one and the romance endures in stories from Theseus and the Minotaur, Garcia Lorca’s five in the afternoon and Hemmingways, Death in the Afternoon to name a few. The bull is a potent symbol, just ask Picasso.

Notes on the Production:


Composer………….. Bizet

Carmen…………….. Daniela Mack

Don Jose’………….. Evan LeRoy Johnson

Micaela…………….. Kirsten MacKinnon

Escamillo………….. Adrian Timpau

Conductor…………. Yves Abel

Philadelphia Opera