Ruthless, seductive and free-spirited – the character of Carmen continues to enthral audiences worldwide. As we prepare to bring a new interpretation of the famous femme fatale to Sadler’s Wells, we take a look at some of the most memorable Carmens on the stage and screen.
Georges Bizet’s Carmen
The character of Carmen was originally created by French writer Prosper Mérimée in his 1845 novella. Ruled by nature, demanding, attractive, licentious, full of abandon, this ‘strange and wild beauty’ is determined not to show any vulnerability. But it was Georges Bizet’s operatic adaptation thirty years later that became the most famous representation. Breaking both musical and moral traditions, Carmen flopped at its Paris premiere. Today, it’s one of the most widely performed operas in the world.
Even within Bizet’s opera, countless directors and singers have interpreted Carmen in wildly different and interesting ways. Compare these two productions from the Royal Opera House – the first sees Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci as the archetypal charismatic seductress, while in the second, directed by Barrie Kosky in 2018, Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova highlights Carmen’s enigmatic and ever-changing nature, marked by her series of contrasting costumes.
In 1943, American songwriter and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II brought his jazz-inspired musical adaption Carmen Jones to Broadway, where it would become one of the most successful musicals of the 1940s. His version of the story was set in an African-American community in North Carolina: Carmen is a seamstress in a parachute factory. When she attacks one of her fellow workers, the young GI Joe is sent to escort her to prison. In 1954, Hollywood director Otto Preminger picked up the story of Carmen Jones again, turning it into a multi-award winning feature film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, which became a huge global hit.
Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man
Matthew Bourne’s bold reimagining is a masterstroke in choreographic storytelling. Bourne swaps the Spanish cigarette factory for a greasy garage-diner in 1960’s America where the dreams and passions of a small town are shattered by the arrival of a handsome stranger. Loosely based on Bizet’s opera and taking inspiration from film noir, it has one of the most instantly recognisable scores in New Adventures’ repertory, arranged by Terry Davies. The multi award-wining production premiered in 2000 and has been shown in over 150 cinemas worldwide.
Carmen La Cubana
Carmen experiences another exciting transformation in this breath-taking new musical set against the simmering turmoil of the Cuban revolution – from a cigar factory in the rural south-east of the island to the teeming bars and clubs of Havana. A new orchestration of Bizet’s score by Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton) mixes opera with salsa, mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha while Roclan González Chávez’s sizzling choreography incorporates traditional Cuban styles, filling the auditorium with the intoxicating spirit of Cuba.
Played by Luna Manzanares, Carmen becomes a proud Cuban woman whose personal quest for freedom unfolds during a time of political turmoil. Sensual and beguiling, strong-willed and confident, she embodies her own rebellion. “I will laugh and drink, I will sing and dance and live life to the fullest to the last day. As long as I can fly, I will look at the sky. I will always be Carmen.”