From Seville to Strait Street: a new Car­men

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Nikki Petroni

Georges Bizet’s Car­men is recog­nised as an iconic mod­ern opera for a num­ber of rea­sons. It tells the tragic story of Don José and his in­fat­u­a­tion for Car­men, a se­duc­tress who steals the heart of many. The drama un­folds in the early nine­teenth-cen­tury streets of Seville, a per­fect set­ting for a tem­pes­tu­ous story of ro­mance, jeal­ousy and death. Apart from the grip­ping sto­ry­line, the be­guil­ing fe­male pro­tag­o­nist and com­mand­ing mu­sic, Bizet’s mas­ter­piece is the prod­uct of nine­teenth-cen­tury ideas on art and so­ci­ety.

Car­men is cred­ited for travers­ing con­ven­tions and com­bin­ing dif­fer­ent op­er­atic gen­res. It brought to­gether high art and pop­u­lar forms to ren­der a nar­ra­tive of sim­i­lar dis­po­si­tion; the char­ac­ters rep­re­sent di­verse so­cial classes. More so, they emerge from op­po­site ends of the moral spec­trum. Mil­i­tary or­der and the world of the so­cially marginalised co­in­cide only for their roles to be blurred, to the detri­ment of the en­am­oured Don José.

The ex­per­i­men­tal and provoca­tive na­ture of Car­men makes it ap­par­ent as to why Dr. Giuseppe Schem­bri Bonaci chose this opera as the first to be per­formed in Strait Street. A main ob­jec­tive of the pro­gramme of artis­tic ac­tiv­i­ties for the Strada Stretta Con­cept, a project which is un­der the aus­pices of the Val­letta 2018 Foun­da­tion, has been to es­tab­lish Strait Street as a home for the arts. The project is di­rected by Schem­bri Bonaci and man­aged by Me­lanie Far­ru­gia Erixon.

Schem­bri Bonaci’s in­volve­ment in tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary the­atre is rather pro­lific. He has di­rected and pro­duced works by Dario Fo, Goethe, Shake­speare, Fed­erico Gar­cia Lorca and oth­ers in Malta and abroad. Con­tem­po­rary the­atre phi­los­o­phy is cen­tral to his di­rect­ing method, es­pe­cially the avant-garde prin­ci­ples of the in­no­va­tors Ber­tolt Brecht and Vesvolod Mey­er­hold. Both of th­ese thinkers in­ves­ti­gated the no­tion of in­ter­fer­ence. In short, Brecht in­ter­fered with the con­tin­u­ous nar­ra­tive of the play, whilst Mey­er­hold pi­o­neered a sys­tem for train­ing ac­tors called Biome­chan­ics that heav­ily op­posed the il­lu­sion­is­tic tra­di­tion in the­atre.

Schem­bri Bonaci’s ren­di­tion of Car­men in Strait Street, pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Splen­did and the Em­bassy of France in Malta, will be an amal­ga­ma­tion of some ex­per­i­ments in mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary the­atre in an un­likely space. The ac­tors will be per­form­ing face-to-face with the au­di­ence in the street, near Splen­did, the in­fa­mous ho­tel-turned­cul­tural venue. Whilst there have been the­atre pro­duc­tions in Malta to have adopted this idea of us­ing un­con­ven­tional spa­ces wherein ac­tors and au­di­ence in­ter­act, hav­ing an opera do the same is a new oc­cur­rence.

The process of pro­duc­ing Bizet’s Car­men for Strait Street has un­folded in a some­what ir­reg­u­lar man­ner. Schem­bri Bonaci’s ap­pren­tice­ship with Dario Fo in Mi­lan taught him Com­me­dia dell’arte prin­ci­ples that have been heav­ily in­te­grated into his own ap­proach to di­rect­ing. Im­pro­vi­sa­tion is go­ing to be a key fea­ture of Thurs­day’s performance. The ac­tors, who have been re­hears­ing for the past few months, will be work­ing with and around the crowd. So the end re­sult will be dif­fer­ent to the ver­sion re­hearsed with­out the au­di­ence.

In­volv­ing the crowd doesn’t only trans­form the rhythm of the ac­tors, but also shapes the pro­jec­tion of the sto­ry­line. The crowd there­fore will be ac­tive in de­ter­min­ing the out­come of how the opera will be per­formed on the night. In­ti­macy and spon­ta­neous en­ergy are what make it such an ex­cit­ing en­deav­our. This com­bined with Car­men’s no­to­ri­ous tem­per­a­ment and the brawls be­tween her lovers will make the Strait Street ver­sion of Bizet’s opera a no­table one.

On the event poster ap­pears an im­age of a cross and the name ‘Car­men’ en­graved into a wall in Strait Street. This was en­coun­tered co­in­ci­den­tally. It turns out that graf­fiti would be en­graved to mark the place where a per­son died when a con­flict would end trag­i­cally. The story of this graf­fiti beau­ti­fully mir­rors that of the opera. The two Car­mens are vic­tims, in art and in life.

The role of Car­men will be per­formed by Clare Ghigo, a mezzo so­prano who is in­creas­ingly gar­ner­ing ac­co­lades lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally due to her tal­ent and ver­sa­til­ity. Tenor Charles Vin­centi will play Don José, and bass-bari­tone Louis Andrew Cas­sar will be the bull­fighter Es­camillo. Bass singer Ken Sci­cluna will per­form as the of­fi­cer Zu­niga. They will be ac­com­pa­nied by the Ju­nior Choir of the

Jo­han Strauss School Mu­sic.

The par­tic­i­pat­ing mu­si­cians are a group of Mal­tese and in­ter­na­tional estab­lished and up­com­ing per­form­ers. Th­ese are: Vin­cenzo Pi­cone, Matthew Fenech, Yuri Charyguine, Luke Bal­dacchino, Emel Hasanoglu, Gjogji Cin­cievski, Tom Ar­mitage and Jess Rymer.

Th­ese clas­si­cally-trained mu­si­cians will be work­ing along­side of four għan­nejja; Anglu Theuma (ilk­ina), Joe Mike Agius (tas-seba’ rġiel), Mikiel Cumbo (l-iżgej) and Johnny Sal­iba (ta’ Birżeb­buġia), and the gui­tarists Frans Casha (ta’ saqajn) and Joe Bonello (skuti). The għan­nejja will be the nar­ra­tors of the story, fol­low­ing a text penned by Al­fred Grech.

Stu­dents from the De­part­ment of His­tory of Art were in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the vis­ual as­pect of Strada Stretta’s Car­men. The MA Fine Arts stu­dents worked on de­sign­ing the performance space and pro­duced bozzetti to re­alise the trans­for­ma­tion of the street into an opera. Another MA stu­dent from the de­part­ment, Luke Az­zopardi, de­signed the cos­tume be­ing worn by Car­men. Az­zopardi is rapidly mak­ing a name for him­self in the lo­cal fash­ion scene with his el­e­gant and bold de­signs.

What is cer­tainly strik­ing about this con­tem­po­rary adap­ta­tion of Car­men is its vi­tal­ity; the eclec­tic in­ter­na­tional cast and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a good num­ber of young per­form­ers and cre­atives have in­jected fresh en­ergy into its stag­ing. Opera re­mains a lead­ing art form, yet it seems that it no longer ap­peals to the newer gen­er­a­tions. Mu­si­cal the­atre is the pre­ferred genre to­day, with emerg­ing ac­tors as­pir­ing to per­form on Broad­way and Lon­don’s West End. There­fore, it is fun­da­men­tal for opera to be re­gen­er­ated in or­der to re­main rel­e­vant. Schem­bri Bonaci is work­ing to­wards this aim. There is a rea­son why par­tic­u­lar works be­come part of the artis­tic canon; it is be­cause their nar­ra­tive, his­tory and aes­thet­ics res­onate in the col­lec­tive cul­tural con­scious­ness. Car­men is one of those op­eras that has the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate to a global au­di­ence de­spite hav­ing orig­i­nated in Paris. The Strada Stretta Con­cept will be pre­sent­ing a new Car­men with­out los­ing the tra­di­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it a time­less mas­ter­piece.

Car­men will take place on Thurs­day 24 Novem­ber 2016 at 8.30pm. En­trance is free of charge. The Strada Stretta Con­cept would like to thank the fol­low­ing: the Em­bassy of France in Malta, Splen­did, Ja­son Masini, Rocks Bar, Jo­han Strauss School of Mu­sic, Jean Paul Borg, Noel D’Amato and Katelia

Clare Ghigo as Car­men Photo by Elisa Von Brock­dorff

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