Friday, November 9, 2012

Preview: "If you don't love me, I love you, and if I love you, watch out" -- meet La Carmencita

Keep your eye on the flower: We're in the square in Seville outside the cigarette factory where the charismatic gypsy CARMEN and the other cigarette girls work.CARMEN has just sung her Habañera (which we'll be coming back to in a moment) to the assembled soldiers and assorted other drooling males. As our excerpt begins she has been surrounded by a group of importuning young men. The only man paying no attention to her the young Basque sergeant DON JOSÉ.
CARMEN looks at the young men one after the other, leaves the circle they've formed around her, and goes straight up to DON JOSÉ, who is still occupied with his little chain. CARMEN throws a cassia flower at DON JOSÉ. He stands up abruptly. The flower has fallen at his feet. Outburst of general laughing.

CIGARETTE GIRLS [surrounding DON JOSÉ]: Love is a gypsy child;
it's never, never had any law.
If you don't love me, I love you;
if I love you, watch out!

The factory bell. The girls exit running. CARMEN exits first. The young men exit right and left. The soldiers and the lieutenant return to their posts. DON JOSÉ has his eyes fixed on the flower, which has fallen on the ground in front of him.

Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988

by Ken

In just a moment José is going to pick that flower up, and then . . . well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just keep your eye on that flower!

You thought we were going to be finishing up with the Mahler Seventh Symphony this week, right? Or rather starting and finishing up, since it's the hulking first and last movements that still await us after hearing the enchantingly weird three middle movements last week ("Mahler's most characteristically 'Mahlerian' symphony is also his least loved").

Well, for various reasons -- not least that I'm still waiting for that CD set I mentioned ordering which includes the Klemperer recording of the symphony, rather than working from my LP copy -- I'm going to put that off till (probably) next week, and this week start another two-part inquiry, which itself forms a series of sorts with our recent looks at the operatic retellings of the story of Manon and the Chévalier des Grieux and the unrequited passion of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin.

I'll explain this better, or at least more fully, on Sunday. Meanwhile, as promised above, let's have our proper introduction to La Carmencita.

THE CASTING OF THE ROLE OF CARMEN . . .

. . . is fraught with complexities, starting with the vocal lie. The role can be managed by both sopranos and mezzo-sopranos of various weights and colors. Here, for example, we have a lean-textured nominal mezzo (Grace Bumbry) whose instrument generally sounds and behaves more like a soprano; a top-challenged soprano (Maria Callas) who seemed for this brief period possibly able to reconstitute herself plausibly as a mezzo; and a dramatic-weight soprano (Jessye Norman) whose lower range is fuller and richer than that of many nominal contraltos. (In the separate matter of dramatic appropriateness, we should note that Norman's physical stature made it highly unlikely that she would have been called on to sing the role onstage.)

UPDATE: I should of course have called attention to the notably sultrier approach of the Norman-Ozawa performance. Interesting!

BIZET: Carmen: Act I: Soldiers, "Mais nous ne voyons pas la Carmencita" ("But we don't see La Carmencita" . . . Carmen, "Quand je vous aimerai?" ("When I'll love you?") [at approx. 0:46] . . . Habañera ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" -- "Love is a rebellious bird")
SOLDIERS: But we don't see La Carmencita.
[CARMEN enters.]
CIGARETTE GIRLS and YOUNG MEN: There she is!
There she is!
There's La Carmencita!
[She has a bouquet of cassia flowers at her bodice, and a cassia flower in the corner of her mouth. Young men enter with CARMEN. They follow her, surround her, speak to her. She vamps and flirts with them. DON JOSÉ lifts his head. He looks at CARMEN, then calmly returns to his work.]
YOUNG MEN: Carmen, at your feet we all throng.
Carmen, be nice, at least answer us,
and tell us which day you'll love us!
CARMEN [looking at DON JOSÉ]: When I'll love you?
My faith, I don't know.
Perhaps never, perhaps tomorrow,
but not today, that's certain.
Habañera
CARMEN: Love is a rebellious bird
that no one can tame,
and it's quite useless to call it
if it suits it to refuse.
Nothing moves it, threat or prayer;
one speaks well, the other keeps quiet;
and it's the other that I prefer,
he hasn't spoken, but he pleases me.
Love! Love! Love! Love!
CHORUS: Love is a rebellious bird
that no one can tame,&c.
CARMEN: Love is a gypsy child;
it's never, never had any law.
If you don't love me, I love you;
if I love you, watch out!
CHORUS: Watch out &c.
Love is a gypsy child &c.
CARMEN: The bird that you thought to surprise
beats its wings and flies off --
love is far off, you can wait for it;
you don't wait for it, it's there!
All around you, quickly, quickly,
it comes, it goes away, then it comes back;
you think you can hold it, it evades you;
you think to evade it, it holds you.
Love! Love! Love! Love!
CHORUS: All around you, quickly, quickly,&c.
CARMEN: Love is a gypsy child;
it's never, never had any law.
If you don't love me, I love you;
if I love you, watch out!
If you don't love me, I love you, &c.
CHORUS: Watch out &c.
Love is a gypsy child &c.

Grace Bumbry (ms), Carmen; Chorus and Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, cond. EMI, recorded July and Sept. 1969, Jan. and Feb. 1970

Maria Callas (s), Carmen; Choeurs René Duclos, Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded July 6-20, 1964

Jessye Norman (s), Carmen; Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988
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