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Carmen as a Connector

Blog written by Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company

Saturday April 9th, 20 GEMgirls and their mentors are attending the final dress rehearsal of the Canadian Opera Company’s performance of Carmen, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Opera synthesizes many arts forms—music, drama, design, art— and, conceived over 400 years ago, has endured by constantly adapting to the ever-changing artistic landscape. Art is a great leveler—connecting people from all cultural, social, ethnic and historical backgrounds. Opera survived because it engages audience’s souls, using the power of the human voice to focus on human emotions. No matter the character or when they lived—monarchs or mermaids; gods or gentry; or, as in the love triangle at the heart of Carmen, a sexually liberated female cigarette factory worker, a duty-bound soldier, and charismatic bullfighter—the emotional highs and lows that sing through the music unfailingly connect operas to audiences.

Carmen was revolutionary. In 1875, Paris had never seen anything like it: an opera about “real” people living “real” lives. Uncompromising, sexually self-aware and societally marginalized, Carmen lives by her own rules which often do not match society’s expectations, unlike any character portrayed before. This, along with the plot’s unflinching realism, outraged audiences. But the scandal didn’t last long. Within a few months, Carmen was a triumph, and it continues to be one of the world’s most popular operas. (Carmen was first performed in Toronto, only four years after its premiere in Paris!).

George Bizet’s music is at once sensual, emotional and unforgettable. But under its irresistible appeal lays rich psychological interaction. These are real people with stories that could be ripped from today’s headlines. How much more relevant can you get?