That 'sweet' word – freedom


This fatal beauty, who caused her creator so much distress (as is well known Carmen was a total flop at its premiere), went on, after Georges Bizet's death, to conquer all the world’s opera houses. It would be hard to find an opera house which did not fall for her charm. And the Bolshoi is no exception.

Carmen got its first Bolshoi Theatre production in 1898 and ever since it has been a staple item in its repertoire. Productions at the Bolshoi have followed one another with an enviable regularity, and in all there have been a total of six.

The last time Carmen was heard at the Bolshoi was in 1985 and now, after an absence of over twenty years, it will again grace Theatre posters. But – for the first time! – it will be Bizet's original version with dialogues that will be performed.

Leading the production team are Bolshoi principal guest conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, and the English director David Pountney, who is famous for standing tradition on its head.

Carmen is one of Yuri Temirkanov's favorite operas. An extremely sensitive interpreter, his aim, apart from freeing the opera of its stereotypes and imparting a 'light aura' to the sound, is to fill out each nuance, each pause with meaning and, and above all, to inspire the soloists with that heady sense of freedom without which Carmen would not be Carmen

Freedom is a pivotal value in human life – such is the main idea in the opera. But the director emphasizes the duality of this idea: while it is a pivotal value freedom, for all that, both contradicts the social structure and gives rise to one of the chief fallacies of our age – the idea of “commercial” freedom, as blazoned from the billboards, – a freedom which can be bought.

This antithesis is also underlined in the scenographic treatment of the production. Designer Robert Innes Hopkins has created an oppressively sealed off space from which there is no escape. Even in the two final acts, the action continues to unfold at the cigarette factory – there are no mountains on the backdrop, just on the cigarette packets.

The production is built up out of opposites: freedom and airless, sealed off space, the glossiness of life as depicted on the hoardings and the grim reality. It is illusion which rules the day here, as created and cultivated by the personages in the opera, who appear to be acting out a make-believe life – the illusion of freedom, the illusion of love, which in point of fact deteriorate into violence and cruelty.

Having said which, this production of Carmen has traits which are typical of comic opera: it is rapid, dynamic and easy to digest. The director prefers 'communicative' to intellectual theatre, presenting his ideas in bright, shiny 'packaging'.

For the first night performances the title role will be sung by Vienna state opera soloist, Nadia Krasteva (Carmen, without doubt, is one of her best parts) and Bolshoi Theatre soloist Irina Dolzhenko, and the part of Jose - by the famous American tenor, Gerard Powers, and Vsevolod Grivnov. The fearless toreadors will be Alexander Vinogradov and Vadim Lynkovsky, while Lolitta Semenina, Yekaterina Shcherbachenko and Yelena Voznesenskaya will interpret the role of the gentle and devoted Micaela.