Sevilla has served as the setting for several of the more famous operas. Rossini’s Barbiere not only practices his tonsorial talents there but proudly proclaims his home town in song and title. Mozart’s Don spectacularly fails to seduce any of the maidens in his birthplace (or at least not in DaPonte’s version). Leonore, disguised as Fidelio, rescues her husband from the clutches of the evil Don Pizzaro after his long stay at a suburban prison. Verdi’s Leonora plans to run away from Sevilla with her Peruvian boyfriend get botched in Act 1 and then she doesn’t see him again until Act 4 then promptly dies.
And Bizet’s Carmen – well now that’s a story isn’t it? She works in the Real Fábrica de Tabacos rolling cigars when she isn’t rolling customs guards in the nearby Sierra Madres. And I’m told tour guides in Sevilla are more than happy to show you were she worked and, though I’m not sure how true this is, the odd one can show you the spot, if not the blood stain, on the the Plaza de Toros where Don Jose stabbed her!
I’ve oft recorded that one of the great evenings I spent at the opera was back in May of 1980 at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Teresa Berganza had agreed to sing Carmen the year before at Edinburgh provided that the “Spanish” cliches were avoided. Conductor Claudio Abbado, producer Piero Faggioni and designer Ezio Frigerio built a production around her that was low-keyed, restrained and superbly successful. Unfortunately by the time it reached Paris Abbado – in a dispute over which orchestra was to be used – had bowed out and was replaced by Pierre Dervaux, But the main draw remained: Teresa Berganza as Carmen.
In 1984 in conversation with Bruce Duffie she had this to say about the role:
BD: Is Carmen at all a nice lady?
TB: Yes, she’s a delightful lady – enchanting. The problem with audiences going to see Carmen is that they don’t understand who she is. She has so often been presented as a bad prostitute, and she is not a good or a bad prostitute. She is a gypsy woman. Audiences don’t often understand that. If she were a prostitute, she wouldn’t be working in a cigar factory. She would have accepted Don José and then given him horns [deceived him] with 5 or 6 men at the same time. If she were a prostitute, she would have a rich lover and be covered with jewels. And, if she were a prostitute, she wouldn’t have stood up to José and let him kill her. She would have fled. But she is not that. She is a free spirit, a special woman. . . a liberated woman.
BD: Do these kinds of women still exist?
TB: Of course. It is important to understand the gypsy people, because they are free people.
BD: Does Carmen plan a few steps ahead or does she just let things happen around her?
TB: Carmen believes in destiny. She believes in the cards, so as to preparation, she doesn’t believe that it would make any difference. The destiny is there. She has read it in the cards and she goes forward to meet this destiny at the end. This is the story that Mérimée wrote in his nouvelle and this is the story that Halévey and Meilhac wrote in their libretto and what Bizet put into the music.
BD: So she goes to meet it rather than fight it?
TB: She does not fight. She accepts.© 1984 Bruce Duffie
And that’s exactly how she played and sang it – and when she suggests to poor Don José (Placido Domingo) what happens Près des remparts de Séville he doesn’t stand a chance.
You might just hear me – from my first row Circle seat – amongst the cheering audience that glorious night in May. This video brings back some wonderful memories of an glorious evening.
Mr Duffie’s interview with one of, in my opinion, greats of the operatic world is available here.