Director of Carmen Mary Franklin and librettist Ashley Pearson discuss the resonance of Carmen today and how this production will differ from any version you may have seen before...
Mary Franklin: Carmen is the story of a woman who is murdered by her partner. Right now in England and Wales two women are murdered by their current or former partner every week.
Ashley Pearson: It’s also about a person who ends up in a toxic relationship and can’t figure her way out of that and I think that’s something that a lot of people today relate to really strongly.
MF: When we first started working on this new English version, we talked a lot about how Carmen’s portrayal in the original is problematic. It’s suggested that the she invites her own death through her sexuality or through magical powers. We wanted to make it clear this time that she’s not a femme fatale, she’s a normal girl who falls for someone and then decides she wants to be with someone else. That’s everyone’s right.
AP: Absolutely, the tragedy of Carmen has nothing to do with fate or inevitability, it’s down to people taking action. Our version is concerned with the love triangle between Don Jose, Carmen and Escamillo and the breakdown of communication between them. Life is messy.
MF: We looked quite a lot in Mérimée, which is the short story Carmen is based on, and even though it was written so long ago, it addresses things like gaslighting and coercive control that are incredibly relevant to what’s happening today. I think the idea of being young and being a relationship you don’t quite understand is something most women, and indeed most people, have experienced.
AP: I’m proud of how we’ve managed to find ways to unlock what the music is trying to say about Carmen’s character in this process too. My favourite piece is the smoking duet. I think we’ve found a really exciting way to reinfect that number and the music is just so visceral. It feels the way you feel when you take the first draft of a cigarette.
MF: My favourite piece is the Habanera. It’s probably everyone’s favourite though isn’t?
AP: We had five or six different versions of the Habanera worked out before we decided what we wanted to do with it. It’s interesting that the ones we found the hardest were the most famous.
MF: Yes, it was the same with The Toreador. I guess that’s one of the things that’s special about Carmen is just how beloved and well known the music is. You know this opera even if you don’t think you do.
AP: And everyone knows someone like Carmen. She’s an incredibly relatable character. We’ve all got friends that have made mistakes and ended up messy emotional situations.
MF: Right, and I hope in this version that you’ll get to know her like never before. The original is a huge epic taking in Spain, gypsies, smugglers and magic but we’ve really focused it down to the intimate character drama, and set it right now in a recognisable Britain.
AP: Right, and I think that just makes the music all the more emotional and resonant.
MF: It’s certainly unlike any other version of Carmen you’ll have seen before.
Carmen runs from Wednesday 6 February to Saturday 9 March.