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Carmen

by Prosper Mérimée
adapted and directed by James Robinson

Jan 03, 1997 — Feb 02, 1997

For over a century, Carmen has remained virtually without rival as a quintessential romantic tragedy, probably the most recognized signifier for doomed love and violent passion outside of Shakespeare. From its origins in Gypsy lore to the postmodern v isions of countless films, the story has captured the imagination of all those who encounter it. Many singers have won international fame in the role and drawn vast crowds when they sing it. Painters, composers, film-makers, authors, and others have fou nd in the narrative a fertile source for other creative endeavors based on it. Even popular culture has embraced Carmen, from Olympic ice-skating competitions and the subsequent Carmen on Ice to television’s animated sitcom The Simpsons.

Dramatic adaptations of the story have also been attempted, as many artists have explored new directions for the ageless tale. Some have elected to embrace the sheer epic grandeur and historical sweep of the story, mining it for all the exotic flavor it can yield. In other cases, artists have highlighted a more intense and intimate store of personal passions. For at the heart of Carmen, as conceived by Mérimée, resides an ageless conflict between duty and desire, between all the constraint s of civilization and the pursuit of sensual satisfaction.

A man who destroys his life for the woman he loves, then feels compelled to destroy her when she no longer returns his love. A woman whose deathless credo of freedom at all costs must be matched by a quixotic need to pursue the unobtainable. A world of blood and passion in which hatred and longing live so closely that death comes hand in hand with joy. With these tumultuous ingredients, and a deep understanding of the desperation of human need, Prosper Mérimée fashioned from scraps of trad itional material a true classic. Framed by the objective vision of an outsider, who represents us all in his attempts to evaluate and empathize, the story unfolds with all the awareness of doom of a Greek tragedy.

To enhance these original features, and to embrace the inherently theatrical life the novel reflects, Court’s original adaptation will hone the story to its most basic elements. In the same way that Mérimée’s narrator goes to Spain on an ant hropological quest for sources, for the original truth, this new treatment will dig back to the elemental roots–exploring the relationship between the events that so captured the author’s own imagination, the framework in which he and subsequent artists set those experiences, and the raw impulses that draw us compulsively back to the narrative time and time again. Stripped bare of all but the essential emotional conflict, seen through a theatrical prism, and anchored by the musical environment of both Bizet’s familiar melodies and the traditional Spanish folk tunes that informed them, Carmen can find a new life. Not through an arbitrary contemporary relevance, but rather through the painful specificity of her own experience, we can understand Carmen ane w through the universally human impulse of a simple story told with ferocious truth.