For a change of pace, try opera

By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 13, 2005

If you've ever loved anyone who was completely wrong for you, then the opera "Carmen" is perfect for you.

With a libretto (that's opera-speak for script) by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic HalÚvy and a musical score by Georges Bizet, "Carmen" is considered by many opera buffs to be one of the greatest operas of all time.

Set in 19th-century Seville, Spain, the story centers on a sensual and faithless Gypsy named Carmen and Don Jose, her constant but possessive lover.

As an opera that plays with the power of sexuality, the original premiere in 1875 Paris opened to disappointing reviews because of moral depravity largely credited to the nature of the title character.

"She represents the physical manifestation of sexuality itself," said Robert Breault, one of the lead tenors, who plays Don Jose. (The lead roles of Carmen and Don Jose have alternating singers because of the stress of the performance).

A passionate being, Carmen falls in love fast and hard. She also falls out of love just as rapidly. A perpetual state of monogamy doesn't suit her.

"She's like an insect. After she's done with them she bites their heads off," Breault said.

Jose is one of the many unfortunate men who get trapped under Carmen's spell. As a corporal in the Spanish army, Jose was supposed to keep Carmen in prison for questioning and threatening her coworkers at a cigarette factory with a knife.

Using her charms, she convinces Jose to free her. Carmen gets away but Jose is imprisoned.

They reunite after he is freed through a series of events in which the hot-headed Jose threatens his superior officer because of his interest in Carmen. Jose deserts the army and finds himself in league with a group of smugglers.

Having given up everything; his career, good name and every aspect of his old life, Jose expects Carmen for himself. However, Carmen has different plans. Her fickle nature drives her into the arms of Escamillo, a bullfighter.

Jose tries to make her stay with him, willing to forget everything that has happened in the past for a chance with her in the future. There is force behind his pleading as he threatens her life to make her his.

She refuses, even though her life is forfeit, telling him that he should either kill her or step aside. In a rage, the abandoned and dishonored Jose kills her.

Carmen's death at the hands of Jose is tragic because it is not about sex or love anymore, it's about power and possession, Breault said.

"Opera takes a bit of work," Breault said. "But it's just like a rock concert, you'll enjoy it more if you have some familiarity with the band. The same goes for opera."

Though the opera is sung in French, there are projected subtitles in English - just in case you wanted to know what everyone is in a fuss about.

"Opera isn't broccoli. Don't just do it because it's good for you," said Breault. "It is cool, but you have to invest in it."

Bizet's "Carmen" will be performed at Tucson Musical Hall at 260 S. Church Ave., tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $31, $51, $61, $81 or $101. Students with identification can receive a 20 percent discount.