The opera Carmen centers around the main character, a gypsy woman named Carmen, but it goes beyond the central character. Elements taken from the Spanish and Gypsy cultures along with the very melodic score by Bizet help make it a very cohesive work. Many of Bizet's musical themes from the opera, along with the overture, have become well-known in more modern times and they have become recognizable far beyond opera circles by a wider audience of people who relate to the fiery emotions the music expresses so well. Unfortunately, Bizet died very young and never fully realized how successful his opera became.
Italy has long been an amalgam of cultures that surround the territory that is now part of the modern republic. So, it is quite fitting that one would find such an opera as Carmen, which was written in French and contains elements of Gypsy and Spanish culture, being performed in Verona as part of the opera festival in 2016.
The Arena di Verona production of Carmen that was presented this summer was directed by the legendary Franco Zeffirelli, who created an absolute spectacle, a true feast for the eyes! He presented a series of large-scale scenes that were evocative of Spain, with a production absolutely packed with action up on the stage. It felt like a little slice of Spain with so much happening up on the stage in the arena. There were corps of flamenco-style dancers throughout all of the acts, performing dances on both of the side stages as well as on the main stage when they were incorporated into the action of the story directly. There were also soldiers mounted on horseback that invaded the stage briefly a couple of times during the course of the action.
Since voices in the higher registers tend to be heard more easily in the outdoor ambience, the mezzo-soprano and soprano lead roles certainly stood out during the performance, and fortunately they had wonderful voices cast. Assuming no substitutions were made that were not announced, we heard Carmen Topciu interpret the role of Carmen; she filled the arena with her passion. As the counterpoint to the impetuous Carmen, we heard Irina Lungu play the virtuous Micaela who tries to convince Don José that he belongs at home, not out gallivanting with the gypsies.
The larger-than-life spectacle staged at the Arena di Verona this summer certainly gave the audience a chance to experience this colorful and enjoyable opera by Bizet.
For more information: http://www.arena.it/arena/en/shows/carmen.html