What’s All The Song & Dance About?

What’s All The Song & Dance About?

Static Mass Rating: 2/5
RealD Europe Ltd. 

Release date: March 5th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 175 minutes

Director: Julian Napier

Cast: Christine Rice, Bryan Hymel, Aris Argiris

It’s difficult for a film critic to review another art form that has been cinematised. Do you leave alone the content, solely appraising the form of the thing? But there is no alchemy to separate the movie from the opera in Carmen In 3D, so I suppose it has to be approached it the entirety. My judgement on this however could be as wayward as an art critic’s on the carpentry of Tracy Emin’s unmade bed, so apologies to any aficionados out there.

The film is a performance of Carmen, George Bizet’s genre bending Opera/Opéra-Comique (a more frivolous, middle-brow opera with vaudeville influences), first performed in 1875. It was received unsympathetically and Bizet died before it began to win the warm regard it now enjoys. Real D has collaborated with the Royal Opera House to take director Francesca Zambello’s production from the stalls to the big screen.

Carmen In 3D

Carmen tells the story of Don Jose’s divided affections, which metronome capriciously from the Good Woman- Micaëla, a pious, honourable village maiden whose matrimonial suitability has been declared by Jose’s mother (from whom she brings a kiss to Don Jose) – to the Bad Woman: Carmen, a seductive and dementedly passionate gypsy girl whose character fulfils many of the relevant misogynistic stereotypes about the corrupting power of female sexuality. Don Jose must choose the angelic Madonna or the diabolical whore.

The novel arrangement of this ancient yarn was for me the most interesting feature of the film. A narrative of sexual selection appears everywhere- from Oedipus Rex to Cinderella- and is old enough that Shakespeare was toying with it almost three centuries before Carmen (e.g. the three caskets in The Merchant of Venice).

In this variation, opera seems to have found a story to match its histrionic intensity: dignity, disgrace, longing, release, joy, despair, passion, regret, love and hate- “The Tragedy of Choosing the Wrong Sexual Partner” has it all. Wagner did it forty years earlier with Tannhauser, and it’s difficult to elude the thought that Carmen has appropriated the plot from the German composer’s work, which was enormously famous and successful across Europe.

Carmen In 3D

What the French imagination does with it is nevertheless quite intriguing. Moral consequences are relegated and passion for passion’s sake is the overwhelming priority. There is no redemption and strictly speaking no tragic finale (in which the protagonist would come to recognise the terrible mistakes he has made). In Carmen, love is irrepressible and savage. It makes slaves and monsters of its helpless victims, and no one is to blame.

The cinematography is fittingly understated and the unobtrusive 3D didn’t give me a headache. The idea is to get a very good view of the opera, and that idea is neatly executed. There may be a problem that the view is sometimes too good: opera is perhaps a form whose dramatic success depends on considerable suspension of disbelief, and the proximity of the camerawork might somewhat rend the veil. It is recorded from positions both on and around the stage, sometimes from the perspective of the audience but usually from among the performers- performers, I should add, who are primarily opera singers and secondarily actors.

But this shouldn’t matter. It strikes me that opera is less a visual than an auditory form of art. Of course: the imposing set, lavish costumes and human movement are important. But it was Wagner who first turned the lights off on performance culture, a practice long since ubiquitous throughout theatres and cinemas; and he did so to give the music imaginative priority, liberating it to transfigure the dimmed action.

Carmen In 3D

This experiment then draws inordinate attention to the visual, unbalancing a relationship between sight and sound unique to opera and essential to its specific conceit.

For me, Carmen In 3D inevitably doesn’t work because I don’t like Carmen. The opera is a bizarre combination of the intensely boring and profoundly meretricious, and when I wasn’t reluctantly but quite powerfully moved by the downright promiscuous musical score, I was either falling asleep or appalled by e.g. the analogy drawn between bull-fighting and taming a wild woman. If you don’t mind the new perspectives and you like light opera then you’ll probably love this, getting impossibly close to what must be a superlative production. But I’m afraid I don’t get what all the song and dance is about.

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