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News - Sizzling Spanish Folklore - Shchedrin and Bizet

Toreador by Emilio Beauchy, ca. 1860-80
Rijskmuseum
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Carmen will always be free.

Prosper Mérimée
 
 

Long before Georges Bizet's opera, choreographer Marius Petipa adapted Prosper Mérimée's Carmen (1845) for the stage. Petipa conceived a ballet entitled Carmen et son Toréro around the time Mérimée's story was first published, when the torrid novella was discreetly circulated among gentlemen in private. In 1875, Bizet and his librettists adapted the story into opera. At the time, his Carmen was blasted by critics who saw it as an unabashed spectacle of sexuality in the guise of Spanish folklore. Gradually, Bizet's work gained an accepting audience and is now one of the world's most popular operas. Many dance productions, too, have been inspired by the iconic score and continue to offer audiences exciting and varied interpretations on the dramatic themes of love, jealousy and betrayal.
 
 
Roland Petit
 
Bizet's score was used in full for the first time in a choreographic work by Roland Petit and his company Les Ballets de Paris, with a premiere at the Prince's Theatre in London on February 21st, 1949. Considered the "classic" version, it is in five scenes and represents a striking mixture of classical ballet, Spanish-style movement, mime, and freshly invented dramatic dance action.
 
The original designs and costumes were by Antoni Clavé and the Bizet score was orchestrated by Tommy Desserre. The principal roles were created for Petit's wife Zizi Jeanmaire (Carmen), and himself (Don José). Petit made Zizi cut her hair short and wear corseted costumes with almost no skirt so as to leave her looking like a French music-hall diva, her long legs exposed to the gaze of José. Over 5,000 performances of the work were given around the world over its first 50 years and it was and included in the film Black Tights (1961) featuring Zizi Jeanmaire.
 

 
Alberto Alonso
 
In the 1960s, Alberto Alonso was asked by Bolshoi star Maya Plisetskaya to create a ballet based on Carmen for her. Rodion Shchedrin had already composed many works for his wife Plisetskaya, including The Little Humpback Horse (1960) and Anna Karenina (1972). Having seen her initial rehearsals with Alonso, he agreed to arrange music for the ballet. He re-orchestrated the opera using new instruments and themes from another of Bizet's works L'Arlésienne as well as Massenet's Le Cid, thus creating the Carmen Suite. Alonso's production premiered at the Bolshoi in April 1967. With Shchedrin's score under heavy criticism as measured against Bizet's work, the ballet's second performance had to be scrapped and replaced by The Nutcracker. The score was only accepted by the public after Dmitri Shostakovich spoke about its merits.
 

 
Mats Ek
 
Mats Ek's Carmen was created for Sweden's Cullberg Ballet in 1992 using Shchedrin's suite. Ek tells the story using symbolism and parody, attempting to weave together Merrimée's and Bizet's versions of the heroine. Bizet saw Carmen as an individualist who fought for her freedom while Mérimée saw her as the devil in disguise. This version of Carmen is currently in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet, Cullberg Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, National Theatre Ballet of Prague and the Polish National Opera Ballet.
 

 
Matthew Bourne's The Car Man,  Adventures In Motion Pictures
 
In a radical fresh treatment of the story, Sir Matthew Bourne created The Car Man for his company in 2000 with Shchedrin's score and additional music by composer Terry Davies. This production is loosely based on James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and the 1946 and 1981 films of the same name. This dance production is notable for its frank depictions of violence and sex, including homoeroticism. The action takes place in the 1960s over a period of nine months in a small Italian American community in the fictional mid-western town of Harmony, USA. Critics have hailed it as "full of dramatic and choreographic juice," "sizzling and fizzing with lust," and "a fast-moving thriller that contains all the elements of a film noir."
 

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