Even someone who isn’t an opera fan is probably familiar with the fiery French classic Carmen.
The opera written by Georges Bizet is one of the most popular works from the genre in history, but the newest production by the Saskatoon Opera promises to put a more nuanced twist on the beloved show.
Anna Theodosakis, the director of Carmen, said this version of the opera would be set in modern times — with an emphasis on the feminist perspective.
“I think what we can provide is a refreshing take on Carmen — one that sees her as a strong and independent woman … and find a more nuanced portrayal of Carmen and the other female characters in the show,” she said.
Carmen follows the titular character, traditionally portrayed as a sultry and seductive woman from Spain, as she carries on a life of confidence and freedom. She is forced to contend with the affection and subsequent jealousy of the soldier Don José as she strives to take charge in her own life.
While the character Carmen is often made out to be a sex symbol in the performing arts word, Theodosakis said she wanted to find more depth to bring the show into the modern era.
“It’s taking away that layer of sexuality for the male gaze, and instead portraying a woman who draws people in to her because she is empowered,” she said.
Theodosakis, making her debut with the Saskatoon Opera, said the key was avoiding stereotypes. One example she gave was the relationship between characters like Carmen and Micaëla, a childhood friend of Don José’s. Theodosakis said there was historically a “good girl, bad girl” relationship between the two.
But in this production, by fleshing out Micaëla more and changing how she interacts with Carmen and Don José, she hoped to give a more “refreshing” take on some of these characters and material.
The added focus on character has not been limited to the female roles, either. Luka Kawabata, who plays the bullfighter Escamillo, said he’s had “so much fun” in his debut with the Saskatoon Opera.
Kawabata said the characters in Carmen all feel very real — so he was happy to have the chance to develop them with his castmates.
“The production allows for all the characters to be fully fleshed out, and have these moments on stage where you’re not just concentrating on presenting the music,” he said. “It’s more about the story and the character relationships.”
Kawabata also said the cast and production team did a good job of never making Carmen feel like a “victim” in this version of the show. Instead, Kawabata said Carmen keeps her power in all of her decisions.
He lauded the young production team for fostering an environment to allow those character explorations to happen.
“Being able to have this new, current, fresh energy in terms of where we see the future of opera going … it’s a very pleasant, collaborative, exciting experience we have at rehearsals,” he said.
For all of the flair that comes with Carmen, Theodosakis wants to bring some realism as well. By bringing the focus more onto the character of Carmen and away from the men that have historically defined her existence, Theodosakis said she wants to highlight modern societal issues around women as well.
It’s still the classic people recognize. But if Theodosakis achieves her aims, it will be reflective of today’s women as well.
“There’s a role in art, to imitate life and vice-versa,” she said. “I strive to create art in opera that is relatable to audiences, and that can evoke real, impactful change.”
The Saskatoon Opera’s production of Carmen takes place at 7:30 p.m. on June 11, 14, and 16, and at 3:00 p.m. on June 18 at Persephone Theatre.