Roland Petit’s Carmen – The Operanut Goes to the Ballet

What is the world coming to on Saturday, April 2 2011? Here I am, the self-named Opera Nut writing about a ballet. And my previous two performances had been classical Broadway musicals – one by a Symphony orchestra and the other a high school production.

Photo courtesy Ballet San Jose web site

No, I haven’t lost my mind and I haven’t lost my love of opera. In fact I plan to see three “real” operas in the next eight days. But today I saw the Ballet San Jose present Roland Petit’s Carmen, danced to the music of the familiar opera by Bizet. And I just felt like writing about it. I have to call my result a “review” because that’s how SPLASH categorizes it, but I am totally unqualified as a ballet expert and am just writing my personal reactions as an opera-lover who also enjoys other forms of musical and dramatic entertainment.

I went with no idea of what to expect, except that the music would be familiar and delightful and that the dancing would be high quality. I was pretty sure that the ballet would tell a story. Which it certainly did, but the story had but faint similarity to the plot of the opera.

In fact, the story lines were so different that I was inspired to go online and find the 1845 novella Carmen by Prosper MÉrimÉe, which first told the tale. It’s not a long read. There are only four chapters and both the opera and the ballet are based solely on Chapter 3. Despite its title, that story is about Don Jose; the gypsy Carmen is important only because of her role in his life. Anyhow, I suspect that Roland Petit leaned more on the novella than he did on the opera when he choreographed the ballet.

Outside the cigarette factory; Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) and chief bandit (Ramon Moreno)

Don Jose (Jeremy Kovitch) and Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) meet outside of the cigarette factory where she works, and it is lust-at-first-sight. Scene 2 is at Lilas Pastia’s tavern where Carmen dances for Don Jose – but while she does so the bandits she is affiliated with steal his wallet. The chief bandit (Ramon Moreno) wears a Harpo Marx red wig and provides some comic relief from the grim story.

Don Jose (Jeremy Kovitch) and Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) - The Kiss

The love scene in Scene 3 starts off hot and heavy.

Don Jose (Jeremy Kovitch) and Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) - Pas de Deux

As Artistic Director Dennis Nahat writes in the Program Notes: “the dancers rub up against each other like salt in a wound or cats in heat.”

Don Jose (Jeremy Kovitch) and Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) - Pas de Deux Finale

But eventually Carmen gets bored with it all, the bandits enter the room, and they persuade Don Jose to join them.

Don Jose (Jeremy Kovitch) and Carmen (Alexsandra Meijer) - Pas de Deux Ending Pose

In Scene 4 Carmen tells Don Jose that he has to kill their next target and gives him a knife for that purpose. One of the most interesting solo dances ensues in which he practices wielding the knife and gradually seems to enjoy it. But after the murder Carmen and the bandits run off and leave him alone in despair.

Escamillo (Maximo Califano) and his groupies; note Califano is from the other cast - we saw Damir Emric

Escamillo (Damir Emric) finally appears in the final scene as a parody of egotism – reminded me a little bit of Elvis Presley. He and Carmen meet and draw sparks, then he’s off to the bull ring with all dancers following him; Carmen and Don Jose are left alone for their final fatal pas de deux.

As a ballet, I enjoyed it immensely. It was filled with energy, but not of the frenetic type that one usually encounters. Sometimes, particularly in Scene 5, it was suppressed energy, building up to an explosion. Other times it seemed more random and violent. A very different ballet than the Swan Lake we saw last month!

So, as an Opera Nut, how do I rate Carmen-Ballet compared with Carmen-Opera? Depends on which opera production I’m comparing it to. It was certainly far more enjoyable than the travesty from Barcelona (see my review of 1/15/11) that I saw last January, but it didn’t reach the dizzying heights of the MetHD production (see my review of 8/5/10) that I saw a year previously. Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer cherce.

The Opera Nut

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on April 23, 2011

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