On Carmen, Hamlet and Gilligan

So, I’m sitting on the couch playing “Angry Birds: Space” when The Wife comes to me and says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight?”

“You’re finally going to see The Avengers with me?”

“No. We’re going to see Carmen.”

“I don’t know anyone named Carmen.”

Carmen is not a person, it’s an opera. We’re going to the Opera!”

“Wait. What? We just went to Othello last weekend.”

“Yes. That was Shakespeare. This is Bizet.”

“They’re both snooty, cultured, ancient theater. Why am I being subjected to this two weekends in a row? You haven’t seen The Avengers once and I’ve only seen it three times.”

“I’m sure I’ll be subjected to your little comic book movie several times once it’s out on DVD. Besides, you liked the last opera we went to.”

“Oh yeah. Will this one have the devil come up and drag the hero into the pits of Hell? ‘Cause that was cool.”

“You’ll have to wait and see. Now go put your suit on.”

“Suit? I don’t have to wear a suit to go to the movies!”

“Yes, but you will have to wear a suit at your funeral, which you will be attending soon if you don’t put the ipad down and get moving.”

“Opera fans are so dramatic.”

And so it was that, after a quick meal of $5 pizzas from Little Caesars (the official pizza of Carmen), we made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of Georges Bizet’s 1875 Opéra comique (I got that from Wikipedia).

We were located at stage right, second row from the action (not sure how The Wife pulled that off) which is as close to the opera as I’ve ever been or would ever want to be. A handsome young man comes up out of the ground and starts conducting the prelude and I know I’ve heard this song but I can’t think of where. Wikipedia let me down when I tried to track it down later.

The show opens on a square in Seville, in front of the tobacco factory. The men are hanging around waiting for the women inside to come out for a smoke break. One of those women in Carmen (Kendall Gladen), a gypsy and the object of all men’s desire.

Carmen starts singing a song about love and how men should beware her love but all I’m hearing is Bob Denver singing the classic soliloquy from Hamlet:

I ask to be or not to be,
A rogue or peasant slave is what you see
A boy who loved his mother’s knee
And so I ask to be or not to be…

That’s right. Apparently Carmen is based on the classic Hamlet: The Musical! episode of Gilligan’s Island. OK, maybe it’s the other way around, but I was exposed to Gilligan first, so that’s my frame of reference.

Now I’ve got a pop culture explosion going on in my head. I’m watching Carmen, the opera, but I’m hearing Shakespeare’s Hamlet as rendered by the cast of Gilligan’s Island. It’s distracting, but it is making the show more entertaining.

Back to the story. Carmen seduces Don Jose (Adam Diegel), an officer who’s kinda in a relationship with Micaela (Corinne Winters), but he throws his career and previous relationship away to be with Carmen. Carmen later loses interest in Jose and hooks up with Escamillo (Aleksey Bogdanov), a bullfighter.

Escamillo enters the scene in fine flourish:

Toreador, en guard! Toreador, Toreador!
And dream away, yes, dream in combat,
That a black eye is watching you,
And that love awaits you,
Toreador, Love awaits you!

But once again, all I’m hearing is Alan Hale singing to Dawn Wells:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Do not forget: Stay out of debt
Think twice and take this good advice from me
Guard that old solvency
And there’s one other thing
You ought to do
To thine own self be true

You know, Gilligan’s Island gets a lot of crap for being low brow, but it’s pretty genius to take a well-known speech from Shakespeare and perfectly synch it up to a classic and unrelated piece of opera. I don’t know who wrote the Hamlet: The Musical! episode but they should have won an Emmy.

Oh, back to Carmen. Carmen and the bullfighter hook up and she’s later confronted by an insanely jealous Don Jose. A shot is fired. Someone dies. The end.

So, my second outing with opera turned out to be a pretty good time. The story’s not much to speak of but I suppose it was clever by 19th century standards. It’s always nice to experience classical music in its original format. The orchestra did a really fine job, as did the cast. Gladen, Diegel and Winters were exceptional singers.

It’s not a colorful show. Aside from a red neon sign, the set design and all the elaborate costumes are in black, white and gray. I’m sure there’s a reason for that but it probably involves symbolism and trying to figure it out would  just give me a headache.

On the negative side, the show had not one, but two intermissions — and we all know how I feel about intermission. The show ran long enough as is. I suppose they’re needed in opera to give the singers a chance to rest their voices, and for the wine sellers in the lobby to make money, but it just drags everything out for me.

Carmen runs through June 23. http://www.opera-stl.org


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