Sunday, February 13, 2011

“’Carmen’ in 3D’ joins the BIFF roster

Christine Rice as Carmen, Bryan Hymel as Don José and Maija Kovalevska as Micaëla in "Carmen' in 3D," newly added to the schedule at the Boulder International Film Festival.

Photo credit: RealD and The Royal Opera/Ollie Upton

Top tunes, sex and death! In depth!

Now that we have your attention . . .

The Boulder International Film Festival is proud to add Film Number 55 and Program Number 40 to its program. “’Carmen’ in 3D” will be screened on Sunday, 2/20 at 11 a.m. at the Cinemark Century Theaters at 29th and Canyon in Boulder.

The film opens in more than 750 theaters nationwide on March 5, but BIFF gets a chance to give its ticketholders a sneak preview.

Now, stay with us – it’s an opera.

Yes, many of you just flinched. We could feel it. All right, hold on just a minute. Despite the genre’s reputation as a diversion fit only for the rich and bored, we’d like you to know that operas for decades were the equivalent of “Avatar” – flocked to by the masses, and considered by some an overwhelming (and vulgar) spectacle that overloaded and disoriented the senses.

In other words, it’s already a party. Operas routinely traffic in melodramatic situations, betrayals, passions, acres of violence, perversity and the like. “Carmen” is no exception. Its wild and willful heroine, a Spanish gypsy, triggers all manner of chaos that she blithely leaves in her wake, until her past catches up with her in a stunning final scene.

"If you don't love me, I love you -- if I love you, guard yourself!"

Of course, she's hot -- so hot that the Seville Fire Dept. had to stop by and hose her down periodically. (A mousy Carmen would be a contradiction in terms.) In fact, the first production of “Carmen” was booed by a scandalized audience. The composer, Georges Bizet, tragically died at the age of 36 before he could see the second production of “Carmen” triumph and sweep into the repertory of opera houses everywhere.

Christine Rice as Carmen -- the original Bad Girl.
The idea of a strong central female character that makes her own choices and controls her own sexual life, can still be seen as disturbingly transgressive today. In “Carmen,” the male characters are the ones who tag along and suffer (Carmen’s pathetic, clingy and desperate lover Don Jose), or who serve as eye candy (the studly Escamillo, who struts around singing the familiar “Toreador” song). Here's Ruggerio Raimondi singing it in Francesco Rosi's 1984 film of the work --

The point is, this show’s for everyone mature enough to handle its themes. The tradition of broadcasting “Live from the Met in HD,” and other cultural events, is five years old now, and has proved remarkably successful. In this sense, presenting a production in 3D is not so much a gimmick as it is a logical extension of the medium. “Carmen,” full of action, dance and song, is a prime candidate for rendition in three dimensions.

The production, staged at the Royal Opera House in London and helmed by top-flight director Francesca Zambello, is thought as the first true verismo opera – a gritty approach that traffics in real characters and emotions rather than overblown plot points and stiffly sung arias.

"Carmen" stage director Francesca Zambello in front of the prestigious Glimmerglass Opera, which she recently took over as Artistic & General Director. Julian Napier directed the film of "Carmen' in 3D."

The screening will attract the usual fan base of dedicated opera-lovers in the region, but we encourage all our festivarians to put it on their schedules this weekend. The music is thrilling, the knives are sharp, the emotions are naked (and so are some of the extras, evidently.)

And, hey, cognoscenti – this performance text uses the spoken dialogue passages, not the recitatives interpolated later, which many think weakens the impact and Bizet and his librettists intended the show to have.

So, come one, come all! Let’s get Bizet!

"The chain which binds us will bind us until death!"

As a final treat, here's the divine Maria Callas singing the famous Habanera from "Carmen" in a recital at Covent Garden in 1962.

(P.S. During my research, I recalled listening to a recording of this obscure and bizarre pop number. It was the flip side of the 1955, 78 rpm hit cover of "Sh-Boom" by the Crew-Cuts. I could not find that recording, but here's the Andrew Sisters' version of "Carmen's Boogie" from 1952 -- solid, cats!)