Who is Carmen?

Wednesday May 18th, 2016

Blog > Who is Carmen?

This weekend, the YoungArts campus will come alive as the setting for a workshop production of Jay Scheib’s Carmen, one of the most popular operas in the world written in 1875 by Georges Bizet, followed by an intimate discussion with the director and cast about the creative inspiration behind the director’s interpretation of this classic opera. If you’re not yet familiar with this famous tale of love, lust and betrayal, read on.

The opera opens in the square outside of a tobacco factory in Seville, Spain. Almost immediately the gypsy Carmen sings one of the most famous pieces in the opera known as the Habanera,which sets up the twisted and tragic love story.

Carmen sings:
L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird)
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser (that no one can tame)

Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime! (if you do not love me, I love you!)
Mais, si je t’aime (but if I love you,)
Si je’taime, prends garde a toi! (if I love you, then beware!)

Carmen coquettishly sings about love to the soldiers in the square and singles out Don José by handing him a flower.  We soon learn he is already connected to Micaela, who his mother wants him to marry and settle down with.  As he declares his decision to return home and marry her, he is interrupted by a fight between the lady-workers in the tobacco factory. Guess who is to blame? Carmen. Officer Zuniga orders Don José to guard her, but Carmen seduces Don José in an attempt to escape. As he lets her go he asks, “If I love you, Carmen, will you love me?” She runs off, and Don José ends up in jail for letting her go.

Some time later, Carmen and friends are celebrating at the Tavern, dancing for Zuniga and the soldiers, when Escamillo, the famous and braggadocious bull-fighter arrives with his procession of adoring fans. In another well-known number from the opera, the Toreador Song, he sings about his glorious victories in the ring, repeating over and over - “Toreador, l’amour t’attend” (Toreador, love awaits you). Just as Carmen sang to Don José at the start, Escamillo sings to her.
Carmen knows Don José has just been released from jail, and when her friends plead her to join them, she refuses to go and waits for him instead. He arrives to meet her, but soon hears the bugles calling him back to the barracks. She accuses him of not loving her if he can so easily leave her. Even after he sings to her about how he kept her flower with him and it inspired his love to grow, she spits back he could only prove his love by running away with her, deserting the army. Officer Zuniga comes to the Tavern, looking for Carmen, inspiring jealousy in Don José, who fights him. Don José quickly leaves with Carmen and the other gypsies to the mountains. He knows that he cannot return to the army after attacking Zuniga.  

As you can probably imagine, Carmen soon gets bored of Don José. Michela, as you can probably imagine, has followed them to try and win back Don José. Don José is on watch at the gypsy camp as Escamillo comes on the scene looking for Carmen (I bet you also saw that coming!). Escamillo laughs about Carmen’s former lover, the soldier who deserted for her. Don José reveals himself as her lover and challenges Escamillo. Carmen breaks up the fight. As Escamillo leaves he invites the group to his next bullfight in Seville, saying, “whoever loves me will come there.” Michela, who was watching from behind a rock, is discovered. Carmen tells Don José to leave with Micaela, but he vehemently refuses. Micaela pleads and tells Don José that his mother is dying. This convinces him to go with the parting words to Carmen that they will meet again. As he leaves, the Toreador Song is heard in the distance.

Now, the day of the bullfight, Escamillo and Carmen enter together. She pledges that there is no one else she has ever loved more than him. Carmen is warned that Don José is also at the bull fight and to be on guard. She shakes off the threat, saying she is scared of nothing. Don José confronts her, begs her to love him, and she refuses. She tries to leave for the fight, but Don José stops her. She threatens, “strike me, or let me pass.” One last time he asks her to go with him. Her response? She throws the ring he gave her. He immediately stabs her to death as the crowd cheers the Toreador in the background!

It’s no wonder that directors and artists have pulled so much inspiration from the rich material in the opera.  Not only does Jay Scheib—the director for the YoungArts Outside the Box workshop production of Carmen—have the original libretto and music to guide his interpretation, he also has the work of countless directors and interpreters before him. Otto Preminger’s 1943 Carmen Jones sets the story in Chicago in the 1940s with an all-black cast. The more Joe ignores Carmen, the more she wants him. Once she gets his love, it all starts to fall apart. New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard uses the Carmen plot in his 1983 film Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen). Carmen and her friends rob a bank in order to fund their independent film and she falls in love with the bank’s security guard, Joseph. In a parallel storyline, a string quartet practices Beethoven providing the underlying soundtrack to the destructive love affair between Carmen and Joseph.

Informed by these past productions, and a short story by Ernest Hemingway called “The Capital of the World,” in which a young waiter dreams of becoming a bullfighter, Mr. Scheib will tell the story of Carmen on the YoungArts Plaza through the mediums of live performance and film. Audience members will be able to watch the story unfold in a live-feed film that is projected on the seven-story Tower Building on YoungArts’ campus. Alternatively, they can watch the film shoots live in various locations on the plaza or inside the Jewel Box. The atmosphere will be enhanced by three of Miami’s favorite things: food, drink, and cigars. With the combination of an amazing cast of YoungArts alumni, the thrilling storyline of Carmen, and the experience of watching a film being produced live in a one-time only event, YoungArts Outside the Box on June 4 promises to be an event you will not want to miss.

RSVP for the world premiere of Jay Scheib’s Carmen on the YoungArts plaza on June 4 at sundown.

And for those who would like to learn more about the creative inspiration behind director Jay Scheib’s interpretation of this classic opera, YoungArts is hosting an intimate discussion with the director and all-star cast of Carmen on Sunday, June 5 at 2 p.m. at Ted’s at YoungArts. Sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, this event marks the last Salon of the season and will feature one of our largest Salon line-ups yet:

Internationally renowned opera director Jay Scheib, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and OBIE Award-winning director
India Carney (2011, Theater, Voice + U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts)
Aaron Casey (2011, Voice)
D’Angelo Lacy (2005, Theater)
Asia Stewart (2014, Theater)
Wes Goodrich (2015, Theater)
Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner (2015, Music)

For tickets and information, visit carmensalon.eventbrite.com