L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
Carmen… one of the most well known operas in existance. The music is instantly recognizable and almost everyone has heard some part of it at one time or another. It is also a dream role for many mezzo sopranos. But for me it has been something of a headache. Carmen is usually portrayed as this sultry, seductive temptress that lures the poor, innocent Don José into ruin and despair. A lot of times Carmen is almost vulgar in her portrayal and this image of her as being somewhat of a tramp has made portraying her somewhat difficult for me.
I realize that Carmen is one of the more difficult roles to play as well, considering it has been done so many times over the years. It takes a lot of work to find your own Carmen and to not replicate someone else, but despite that the stereotypical image of her has stayed with me and made my own portrayal of her difficult… until a few weeks ago.
In school we have this performance class where we work on an aria or song from an operatic acting point of view. This means that during this masterclass we explore the character on a deeper level, find their motives, create the space and the situation they are in, find out their backstory and work woth the aria based on the things we’ve found. The first thing the teacher said to me after I told her about my troubles in getting into Carmen’s character was that i needed to drop every preconcieved notion of who Carmen is. We were going to find -my- Carmen, and to do that we needed to dig a bit deeper.
We examined the lyrics of the song (the Habanera) as well as some of Carmen’s actions in the opera and what we came up with resonated with me. The Carmen we found is an incredibly self destructive force, an artist whose creativity has been blocked. Being cut off from any creative outlet is extremely painful and frustrating for her and to dull the pain and the frustration she turns towards self destructive behaviour patterns… anything to make the pain go away! She is also deathly afraid of committing to anything, especially any kind of relationship. Her view on love is pretty bleak, even if she deep down yearns and longs for it too.
While she may appear confident and alluring to everyone around her she really hates herself for destroying her own life this way.
To sing the Habanera completely alone and with such loathing and hatred towards myself, as well as with the glimmer of hope that love can be real, is exhausting. It is an immense challenge and by the end of every session I am completely drained emotionally. But it is also very satisfying when I realize the progress we’re making. Slowly, very slowly, we are finding a Carmen that is real. She is more than just a sultry seductress. You just have to look beneath the surface to find it.