Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Bizey with Bizet
Imagine my shock when I went backstage at the Coliseum for the ENO production of The Pearl Fishers and saw the set. Stilt houses, almost exactly like the fishing village where I spent a lot of my childhood. Serious karma.
Read what director Penny Woolcock says about ENO's Pearl Fishers. HERE. "At its heart is the love triangle. Such things cause pain and destruction. Then, there's the struggle between the villagers and the ocean. These people are very poor. They live in flimsy dwellings and are at the mercy of storms. And the burning of the village. If you think of the villagers as real people, with children, it's dreadful! So we're taking the story seriously, bringing out the dark undercurrents".
In Bizet's time, the exotic was a mask for feeling and ideas that might not be so easily expressed in polite society. Transferring extreme passions to alien cultures, which weren't "civilized", made them less dangerous. Leila's a sanctified virgin, who has to be veiled - cloistered - because that's how the local religion works. She's a prisoner to the system. Zurga burns down the village - mass murder for the sake of love. And against this horror, exquisite, diaphanously beautiful music.That's Bizet's masterstroke, Those who will be lulled see only the surface. Those who see beneath hear the real depth and power. "Manche schöne Perle in seiner Tiefe ruht" as Heine said. Pearl Fishers dive deep, they don't mess about in tide pools.
And what about Carmen? She's a femme fatale of a different order, violent and untamable. Nothing like nice Parisian ladies in Bizet's time (at least not in public). Maybe her hypnotic allure stems from her being such a rebel. Maybe the men would like to be like that themselves, but they're too repressed. In the Opera Holland Park production, Carmen grabs men by the balls, quite explicitly.
What does Carmen really, really want? Freedom, whatever that might be. Again, brutal violence, theft, murder, treachery and S_E_X, all against a backdrop of gorgeous music. Like the interlude just before the criminals return from killing the people on the ship. It sounds like a hymn, but we know what's just happened.. Carmen's a nasty slut, and ends up dead. But somehow the "Carmen spirit" lives on. Mousy Micaela doesn't get Don José but she's travelled among brigands and survived. Arguably, Carmen lives on and becomes..... Lulu!
Please also see Janacek's Dangerous Women