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Now for a Carmen with a feminist ending

January 3, 2018 by norman lebrecht

73 comments.


In the new Florence production of Bizet’s opera by Leo Muscato, Carmen gets to shoot Don José dead before he can stab her.

‘At a time when our society is having to confront the murder of women, how can we dare to applaud the killing of a woman?’ says Cristiano Chiarot, head of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale.

Veronica Simeoni (pic) plays the feminist Carmen.

What next, Brünnhilde with a fire extinguisher?

 

Or Aida jumping out of her tomb saying, ‘I’ve had enough of this!’

Feel free to add your own alternative fem-pos ending to familiar operas.


Comments (73)

  1. Alex Davies says:

    Is Sharpless supposed to be a bachelor? I don’t believe that a wife is ever mentioned. Butterfly ought to have married him instead. He’s a decent sort of a chap and American to boot. A happy prospect for consul and geisha alike.

  2. Tony Hennessy says:

    In a highly abbreviated version of Don Giovanni, particularly suitable for corporate entertaining at, inter alia, Glyndebourne, Donna Anna seizes her dying father’s sword and runs the Don through or even uses it to effect an anatomically appropriate indignity on the priapic nobleman’s petson: cue curtain and then exeunt omnes for the Champagne.

  3. Sanity says:

    And yet directors seem determined to show rape on stage, even when the plot does not mention it.

    The whole point of Carmen is to show how men aim to own women. Carmen, in the book at least, is little more than a child, very damaged, yearning for freedom and independence.

    And BTW, most charities who support the victims of domestic and sexual violence would tell you that it is a VERY bad decision to show a victim killing her abuser.

    This is stunningly misguided.

    1. FS60103 says:

      The book is one thing. The entire point of the opera, however, is that Don Jose is the victim and Carmen is the abuser. Up until that final twist it’s an opera about a weak man destroyed by a powerful, sexually confident woman.

      1. Mike Schachter says:

        Unfortunately the news pretty much daily tells us about deaths of women and children perpetrated by inadequate men.

      2. mr oakmountain says:

        That is precisely the point: Jose thinks he is entitled to kill Carmen after not being “man enough” to say no whenever she plays him. I often use Carmen in school to discuss feminism with kids aimed 13 to 16, and they get it.

        1. EricB says:

          Interesting analysis… and very much to the point of the real violence against women, mostly perpetrated by men who have a problem with their image as “what a man should be”.

  4. erich says:

    …..so presumably Jose’s last line of the opera is cut???

    1. Nik says:

      Indeed, the last line is: “cut!”

    2. Ben says:

      … “rosebud” ….

  5. Adam Stern says:

    I propose a revised ending of Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”, wherein Judith and the three former wives would overtake the titular duke and chuck him into the lake behind Door No. 6, thus causing him to literally drown in his own tears.

    1. SDG says:

      …”literally to drown…”
      sorry -pedant.

      1. Alex Davies says:

        There is nothing wrong with split infinitives in English. The taboo comes from the fact that it is impossible to split an infinitive in Latin, and certain grammarians consequently decreed that infinitives should not be split in English, despite the fact that an English infinitive comprises two separate words, whereas a Latin infinitive comprises one.

        1. EricB says:

          Besides, you were right. I’ve always learned that the adverb was to be placed immediately before the verb, and NOT before “to”.

          1. Lewes Bird says:

            Also, SDG, ô, maître, shouldn’t you have written…

            “…literally to drown…”

            instead of

            …”literally to drown…”

            which is how you wrote it? Unacceptable. I can’t tolerate such sloppiness. What’s punctuation come to?

  6. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Tristan to say, ‘You really fell for it, didn’t you?’.

  7. Doug says:

    How about we abolish symphony orchestras and opera houses worldwide and just sit in a drum circle and chant with crystals on our heads? Or better yet, just abolish all forms of Western music and adopt Islamic chanting of the Koran.

    You think I’m joking? Stick around for another generation and see.

    1. Nik says:

      “abolish all forms of Western music”
      But of course, we won’t be allowed to play any non-Western music either as this amounts to appropriation. As whiteys we are looking forward to a future where no music (or culture of any kind) is permissible.

    2. Sue says:

      Absolutely agree with you, Doug.

  8. David A. Boxwell says:

    In an updated production of Britten’s DEATH IN VENICE, the opera now concludes with Tadzio’s mother having Aschenbach arrested for stalking. He dies in jail, not on a beach.

    1. Tribonian says:

      The Marschallin pleads guilty to grooming.

      Vienna Daily Mail manages to include her age and the approximate value of her house in its report.

      1. norman lebrecht says:

        Oh, yes!

  9. Tribonian says:

    Ortrud signs Elsa up for a gender awareness and empowerment course. Elsa dumps Lohengrin and gets the Swan as part of the divorce. Lohengrin publishes grovelling apology for withholding his identity.

    1. rita says:

      I’ve always wondered why someone doesn’t shout “Lohengrin! His name’s Lohengrin!” at his first appearance and thus curtail the whole miserable 4 hours or whatever it is.

      1. SDG says:

        It’s a wonderful four hours, or whatever it is one of my favourite operas…………………… in the right hands

        1. Lewes Bird says:

          SDG, you should have put a semicolon after “whatever”. Sorry — pedant.

    2. Sue says:

      What about love about these witty comments is that they acknowledge that two can play the Lefty command and control riffs.

  10. Player says:

    Tosca’s ending is no use either, in the modern age.

    My suggestion? Something which recalls what apparently once happened by mistake in one old production: she jumps off the battlements…

    And then bounces back up again, off a too-springy mattress/trampoline.

    So she is risen indeed!

  11. Caravaggio says:

    While I can sympathise with the feminist objections to the ending of Carmen, for me there are three major problems with the Florence solution: 1) it’s not what Bizet wrote 2) Carmen’s text e.g.”I knew that you would kill me”, “first me, then him” etc and 3) it turns Carmen into a murderer, albeit presumably in self-defence, which demeans her as a character and contradicts her philosophy throughout the piece. Jose pays the price for killing her, and the piece has often been staged as a flashback from his prison cell on death row (as in the Merimee). If you don’t like Bizet’s opera, then don’t do it.

    1. Margot says:

      Exactly!

  12. Sue says:

    Tristan to say, “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip; that’ll learn ya!”

  13. Sue says:

    Desdemona to sing, “Oh, so this is your white privilege”.

  14. Player says:

    And finally a feminist Falstaff…

    Oh.

    1. Roberta Prada says:

      In Falstaff the ladies get the better of Sir John already. It’s fine as it is.

      The Cut for Act 2 of Traviata that I learned long ago from a conductor: Germont: Madamigella Valery? V: Son io. Ger: Siate felice. Addio!

  15. Michel Endres says:

    Káťa Kabanová by Janacek with a few minor changes to make it more relevant:

    instead of the suicide by the heroine due to an extra marital affair with Boris, she divorces her husband and confesses her love to Váňa Kudrjaš, the female school teacher.
    Her husband Tichon Ivanyč Kabanov then kills himself, not without confessing in the very last scene that he is gay and actually always loved Kuligin, who is a transsexual and only vaguely interested.

    1. BH says:

      I think I saw a studio version of this…..

  16. PRAGMATICOPERAMAN says:

    For people who find “Pelléas” a bit tedious and overstretched, there is an abridged version which lasts for about 20 minutes. It ends like this:

    GOLAUD: Oh! vous êtes belle.
    MÉLISANDE: Ne me touchez pas! ne me touchez pas, ou je me jette à l’eau…

    *plouf*

  17. Bruce says:

    We played a semi-staged version of Carmen earlier this season, and Sandra Piques-Eddy’s daredevil portrayal made me realize what had always bothered me about the ending:

    Considering the kind of life Carmen has had, doesn’t it make sense that she would carry a knife of her own, and have some idea how to use it? When Jose grabs her in the final scene, it makes more sense that she’d be ready for him and stab him in the kidney, then go off to join her new boyfriend in the stadium, leaving him to sing the final lines by himself (altered to say something along the lines of “oh, hell”).

    1. Alan says:

      Or “O ‘Eck” (in tribute to the late and lamented Gorden Kaye).

      1. Bruce says:

        Or he could say “You stupid woman!” and then die.

  18. Bruce says:

    Also:

    ‘At a time when our society is having to confront the murder of women, how can we dare to applaud the killing of a woman?’

    Reminds me of a colleague in the orchestra pit who was horrified by the ovation at the end of an ‘Otello’ performance: “these people are applauding domestic violence and murder!” I explained to her that no, people were actually applauding the performance, not the violence portrayed onstage; and they would never applaud the actual act of murder. I think that helped her to understand; it helped her calm down, anyway.

    1. Sue says:

      What the heck did she making of the decapitation of John the Baptist in “Salome”?

      1. Furzwängler says:

        Or indeed of the mass murder in “Elektra”?

    2. Amy says:

      Thank goodness Bruce, your pit colleague had you there to ‘explain’ how she should feel about hearing an audience burst into tumultuous applause seconds after yet another man has murdered a woman he believed he owned. Having read your wise words here, women everywhere can now calm down and stop being hysterical.

      1. Simone Sturniolo says:

        If one has to guess what was going through the public’s mind when applauding, I’m pretty sure Bruce’s guess was much closer on average than his colleague’s. So yeah, he *explained* it, because frankly, only one of the two can be true – either people were applauding the performance, OR the violence, and who the fucks goes to the opera to applaud people getting killed? At best if that’s your jam you go watch some trashy action movie, much more murder at higher density, a lower cost and no singing. If you’re feeling distress over something that is literally just only in your own imagination, what exactly is wrong with trying to suggest you actually see things in a more realistic light and thus feel better?

        Which isn’t to say that domestic violence is not a problem today, and that you should just not thing about it and it’ll go away. Just that the roots of domestic violence are certainly not in opera or theatre enthusiasts who applaud at the end of a well-acted tragedy. I’ll go see Hamilton next month and I know if I’ll applaud at the end it won’t be because I support duelling as a way to solve political disputes.

    3. EricB says:

      Well, you can advise her to switch to a symphony orchestra instead of a pit one…. She’ll be less traumatized… 😉

  19. Bruce says:

    Instead of alternate happy endings, what about alternate tragic endings?

    Die Fledermaus: the music and libretto stay the same, but everybody dies.

    1. Frosch says:

      The champagne was to blame

  20. John Borstlap says:

    There is a curious contradiction between the PC requirements and the usual miserable Regietheater stagings where intrusions into the work at hand has become ‘normal’. If things in operas seem to be ‘offensive’ to modern preoccupations, Regietheater should be on the top of the priority list.

    And what to think of contemporary opera where the usual morbid fantasies of Regietheater and dito intentions of the makers meet in happy confluence?

  21. Kundry says:

    Parsifal. I get to be the new uberlady.

  22. Mark Stratford says:

    Wozzeck with a new Act III ending from the playing children:

    “Du, dein Vater ist tot”.

    By then Marie has drowned W and gone for another dance.

  23. Mark Stratford says:

    Or re-framing Britten’s Lucretia as ‘The Rape of Tarquinius’

  24. Mark Stratford says:

    And thinking about Berg, how about Lulu killing Jack the Ripper ?
    That would be a good day’s work

  25. CHRISTIAN KLIBER says:

    La Femme Bohème! The all female version of Puccini’s opera.
    “In a world where women are often pitted against one another as rivals (…) this production is a chance to show audiences something different. (…)These characters and their stories are timeless; and though we are presenting them in a new way, everyone can identify with falling in love for the first time, the frustrations of an unfaithful lover, the agony of losing a loved one, and the great joy of living life to the fullest.”

    1. Roberta Prada says:

      If they had antibiotics or anti virals, or decent sanitation, Mimi, Violetta and Manon would not have to die at all.

  26. Jack says:

    New Act 3 of Rigoletto:

    Gilda meets with Maddalena at Sparafucile’s house while the Duke and Sparafucile are sleeping inside.

    Gilda and Maddalena sing a languid duet in which they lament how they are the victims of the men in their lives. Gilda laments that she was raped by the Duke and that Rigoletto keeps her locked up as a prisoner. Maddalena laments that Sparafucile prostitutes her as part of his murderous business.

    In the ensuing impassioned oath duet, Gilda and Maddalena swear to work together to exact revenge on the men in their lives. Gilda goes to the Duke’s room, wakes him and lulls him into a false sense of security by tenderly kissing him. They sing a brief love duet. Maddalena suddenly emerges from a hiding place, screams and then stabs the Duke from behind. Gilda joins her and the two women savagely stab him to death.

    Sparafucile is woken by the commotion and enters the room. He finds only Maddalena. She explains that she decided to kill the Duke to fulfill the contract with Rigoletto because she explains that the Duke was a horrible man and that Sparafucile must get tired of killing. Sparafucile welcomes the fact that his sister can now be a full partner in his murderous business. They sing a tender duet declaring their sibling fealty. Gilda suddenly emerges from a hiding place, screams and then stabs Sparafucile from behind. Maddalena joins her and the two women savagely stab him to death.

    Rigoletto arrives with the money to pay Sparafucile on the contract. Maddalena meets him and tells him that Sparafucile is indisposed but that he accomplished the deed earlier as required. She gives him the sack containing the corpse of the Duke. He opens it and sees that it is indeed the Duke. He rejoices. Gilda and Maddalena then suddenly emerge from a hiding place. They scream and then stab Rigoletto repeatedly. Rigoletto falls and, before dying, exclaims “AH, LA MALEDIZIONE!”.

    The End.

  27. PaulD says:

    At the end of Act I of Die Walkuere, Sieglinde pulls the sword from the tree, and uses it to behead Hunding, a la the biblical Judith. She runs off, without Siegmund, to redeem the world and spare the audience another 12 hours of regietheater opera.

    1. Jane Ennis says:

      Some of us did once think of an all-female RING at the Edinburgh Fringe……well, OK it was a joke, it arose because I’d fallen over and was wearing a hat with a big brim to hide the injuries to my face…….I can assure you that you can see weirder things at the Edinburgh Fringe!!

  28. Carmencita says:

    What a bunch of pretentious twats!!! What a bunch of privileged and self-indulgent idiots! Why don’t they write their own boring and fanatic “feminist” operas instead of destroying someone else’s work???

  29. ftumschk . says:

    Poulenc: Les Testicules de Thérèse

    Knussen: Higglety Pigglety Mom

  30. Norman, there’s nothing feminist about a woman being forced to kill her former partner because he was threatening her live, women are put in that situation because THE LACK of feminism.
    It truly saddens me when people in the arts (even if just critics), who should be allies of the movement, are derisive of such an important cause.

    1. Amy says:

      Thank you Alberto, for getting it. NB surprised me a bit with his take on this.

  31. Sue says:

    Poulenc: “Dialogues of the Carnalites”.

  32. EricB says:

    I’ve heard there’s a “reverse rôle” version of Company (Sondheim) coming up next fall in London. That should be interesting….

  33. Leo says:

    Once again, another proof that Regietheater is the most ridiculous, idiotic and pointless “cultural” phenomenon of the last century, sadly still alive and kicking.

    Let’s just wait and see how long more will enraged and disappointed audience members keep accepting this moralizing nonsense, coupled usually with (at best!) mediocre performance.

    1. Lewes Bird says:

      Well, glad we’ll see fewer philistines like you at the opera. We’ll leave you to swim in your complacent and predictable warm Zeffirelli poo.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        A very philistine comment, as if there were only choice between two extremes. A staging which is loyal to the original work still offers a wide margin for personal interpretation on all levels: acting, costumes, props, lighting. You can even change the period a bit – not too much – as had been done once at the ROH with Figaro, a very successful production without Regietheaterfuss:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-NzmMLBkCc (part 1)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szgVc83qks0 (part 2)

        1. Leo says:

          I disagree withe the term “philistine” in the first place – everyone is entitled to an opinion, as this discussion essentially is about taste.

          What I find very peculiar is that the majority of decision makers in opera has a decidedly different taste than the majority of their (dwindling) audience. What is here interesting is the ever-present political affiliation.

          It would be interesting to note, that as left wing as the avant-Garde and their offsprings like to present themselves (virtue signalling, anyone?), their origins are pretty fascist (examples abound).

          I would be very suspicious of anything overtly political in the cultural sphere – more often than not it is a cover for lack of talent, knowledge, and capacity.

          1. Lewes Bird says:

            It’s usually philistines who disagree with the term “philistine”, just like (if I’m permitted a reference to current US politics) it’s usually mentally unstable multiply-bankrupt people who disagree when called out for what they are. Someone who’s not a philistine would take it on the chin, with an indulgently dismissive smile on their face, supremely confident in the falseness and speciousness of the accusation.

            As for judging from your high chair the “lack of talent, knowledge and capacity” of others, unless you are a well-established critic or director or someone with wide experience, track record, and the gravitas to comment (which you’re unlikely to be since such people don’t waste their time on the Slipped fucking Disc comment boards) — rather than an armchair dilettante who chortles over his/her champagne in the interval with pompous pronouncements; so unless you were that, well, arbiter elegantiorum, much?

            As for John Borstlap’s comment on the choice between two extremes, which was ever so slightly more useful and therefore mildly deserving of a reply that’s marginally more on topic… of course it’s not a choice between two extremes, but who’s to judge how far towards one extreme (or the other) is “too much”? If you don’t trust *me* to say that Zeffirelli is a philistine extreme and you call me a philistine for issuing that pronouncement; why shouldn’t I call *you* a philistine for pronouncing that, say, a Calixto Bieito (to pick a more extreme exponent of Regietheater) is “too extreme”? Says who? Your word against mine? The ideological battle of the philistines?

            The fact is that we’ve had centuries of productions “loyal” to the letter of the score or libretto, and a majority of houses continue to stage those in deference to (or fear of) their boring but moneyed patrons. Go to those, please; enjoy! Or buy their recordings and videos of old work. And let a precious few others experiment and go forward. As long as Regietheater productions are musically compelling, you’ve nothing to fear. At worst you might have to close your eyes during what you might judge as the more egregiously visually or conceptually iconoclastic of passages.

          2. Leo says:

            Lewes Bird, there is something here I believe you are missing:

            The most awarded and “important” stage director has just as much right to his opinion as the average person in the street.

            An authority, especially in matters of taste but not only, which is based upon position, title, awards, etc – is no authority at all. It is cowardice.

  34. Andrew T says:

    I would propose to go a little further with the ending. I would have the bull kill the narcissistic, arrogant Escamillo. Carmen, after killing Don Jose would then go live on a farm with Micaela and the bull, and become an animal rights advocate. We have now covered male violence, animal cruelty, and LGBTQ issues all in one opera! (Carmen is obviously a lesbian, the real reason she never seems to stay with one man.)

    If the absurdity of this post can persuade at least one person to leave great art alone then I have done my job.

  35. Christian Engel says:

    Some other suggestions for feminist reforms:

    Desdemona kills Othello
    La Gioconda kills Barnaba
    Gilda kills Sparafucile
    Nedda kills Canio (and Silvio too – all men are pigs)
    Adina kills Nemorino and steals his inheritance
    Tosca kills Scarpia….oups sorry!


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