Carmen’s Story, Told Through Flamenco

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This Carmen is driven by politics as well as passion. She fights for the rights of women and her fellow cigarette workers. She sings Andalusian folk songs and dances with a horse. And she expresses herself best, not through voice, but through flamenco.

A new, radical “Carmen” was scheduled to receive its American premiere this week in a production by a troupe of Spanish dancers and musicians, La Cuadra de Sevilla, at City Center. The spectacle of flamenco dance, guitar and brass challenges the romanticized version of Carmen’s life seen in Bizet’s opera, and celebrates her courage as a liberated woman.

“I’ve tried to create a spectacle that delights the audience, but one that understands the roots of this art,” says director Salvador Tavora, who infuses bullfighting movements into his flamenco version of the classic opera.


Research in company archives and city annuals told the story of a daring Carmen de Triana who, in the workplace, asserted women’s rights to become supervisors and to smoke.

The historical record challenges the version of her private life in Bizet’s opera, which was based on the novel by Prosper Merimee. According to his research, Tavora believes that Carmen consciously chose a bullfighter over her soldier lover after the military establishment blocked a progressive government.

With all his military power, the jealous Don Jose “could kill her, but couldn’t kill her love for another man,” says Tavora. “It was her right to live with the man she loved.”

Blasts of 26 bugles and drums punctuate this folk opera, which celebrates the culture from Spain’s Andalusian region without resorting to stereotypical representations of carefree Gypsy life. Traditional flamenco songs and Tavora’s original compositions place Carmen in the gritty world in which she lived and died.

“In the streets of Triana, the Gypsy who makes cigarettes passes by street lamps without looking back,” says one of Tavora’s original songs.

Throughout the production, a bell rings to mark the start and finish of the tobacco workers’ shifts. Besides the bell, which hangs from an arch, the stage is bare.


“I didn’t want it to be ‘realistically’ decorated,” Tavora says. “I wanted it to be left to the imagination of the spectator.”

A former bullfighter, Tavora sometimes stages his “Carmen” in bullfighting rings. But even on stage, an aesthetic of bulls and waving capes and blades pervades the piece.

The majestic, rhythmic entrance of a picador atop a white stallion opens a dramatic scene that leads to Carmen’s seduction and, ultimately, to her tragic death. This production gives U.S. audiences a chance to see Carmen as an agent of that seduction--not merely a victim.