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As the most performed opera in world, we have a lot of ground to cover with Carmen so we are extending into this week. If you missed the first two posts in this series, check out Victoria de los Ángeles singing the role of Carmen and Mirella Freni singing the role of Micaela (there are also some great recommendations and thoughts in the comments that are not to be missed).
While I tend to agree with a member of the community (“Carmen is brilliant musically but the libretto, not so much.”), I think there is a lot of richness in the characters themselves that’s worth exploring. I am particularly drawn to the universal themes around love. Like so many characters in opera, there is a lot to be studied and interrogated as we look at interpretations from singers of the past as well as more modern interpretations.
Just to recap, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José (tenor), who is taken away from his role as a soldier, and his love Micaëla (soprano) by a gypsy named Carmen (mezzo-soprano). He is later lured into joining Carmen’s crew, but gets insanely jealous when she is around others. This all comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her passion for the bullfighter Escamillo (baritone). The opera's last act is set outside the bull ring in Seville, where Carmen is stabbed to death by Don José.
Carmen is a story all about love, love, love! and the moral of the story here is that love is something that can only be given, not taken. When we expect that love is something that is rightfully ours, it only leads to disappointment and broken hearts. Although Escamillo is a confident character, he understood this concept, and was happy to wait for Carmen (knowing that his affair with Carmen would only last a few months). The character of Don José unfortunately did not understand this—he treated love as something that was transactional. Something that he could conquer. But unfortunately that proved to be incorrect and eventually led to death.
Today we’re listening to the Toreador song, or "Votre toast, je peux vos le rendre," one of Escamillo’s arias from Act II of the French opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. We are listening to the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing the role of Escamillo here. The character of Escamillo has an aggressive, physical quality and when I hear Dmitri sing this role I feel that. Like the title role, there are so many others to enjoy as well. It would be an operatic crime if I didn’t share Sherrill Milnes singing this piece as well as Robert Merrill.
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen):
During the Toreador song, "Votre toast, je peux vos le rendre," Escamillo (ess-kah-MEE-yo) tries to get Carmen's attention (and heart) by singing of his adventures in the bullring (but is unfortunately is unsuccessful at that moment).
I salute you as well, my friends, soldiers as well as toreros both know the joy found in battle.
The arena is full, it’s a holiday!
The arena is full; the fans are going wild; they’re losing their heads, shouting, stamping,
It’s a celebration of courage for valiant hearts!
Let’s go, en garde! Let’s go, let’s go! Toreador, en garde! Toreador! Toreador!
As you fight, dream of the dark eyes watching you and of the love that’s waiting for you,
Toreador, the love, the love that waits!
🗣 Discussion topic: Why do you think the opera Carmen is so loved? Comment below.
Thank you again for listening,
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