For us, the pre-show was a highlight. The streets are buzzing, the restaurants all put on special menus and spill out inot the streets of Orange which are pedestrianised for the night. Parking? Get there early and bring comfortable walking shoes, because that is what you will be doing!
There has to be a first time for everything. We had never before been to an Opera, not even been to the famous Orange Roman Amphitheatre – reputedly one of the best preserved in the world. We booked.
The day dawned bright and hot – 38 degrees celsius at 20h00! The opera starts ‘fashionably late’, 21h45 and is over three hours long. The mercury never dropped below 30 degrees C and the amphitheatre with 25,000 people + is a sauna (or a refrigerator depending on the season).
Carmen is an opera in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, on 3 March 1875, and at first was not particularly successful. Its initial run extended to 36 performances, before the conclusion of which Bizet died suddenly, and thus knew nothing of the opera’s later celebrity.
The opera, written in the genre of opéra comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue, tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery Gypsy, Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen’s love to the glamorous toreador Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial.
After the premiere, most reviews were critical, and the French public was generally indifferent. Carmen initially gained its reputation through a series of productions outside France, and was not revived in Paris until 1883; thereafter it rapidly acquired celebrity at home and abroad, and continues to be one of the most frequently performed operas; the “Habanera” from act 1 and the “Toreador Song” from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias. Later commentators have asserted that Carmen forms the bridge between the tradition of opéra comique and the realism or verismo that characterised late 19th-century Italian opera.
The music of Carmen has been widely acclaimed for its brilliance of melody, harmony, atmosphere and orchestration, and for the skill with which Bizet musically represented the emotions and suffering of his characters. After the composer’s death the score was subject to significant amendment, including the introduction of recitative in place of the original dialogue; there is no standard edition of the opera, and different views exist as to what versions best express Bizet’s intentions. The opera has been recorded many times since the first acoustical recording in 1908, and the story has been the subject of many screen and stage adaptations.
Our view of Carmen? We found the environment beautiful and atmospheric. The staging was stark and soulless. Not what we had expected, and, a feature of the Orange theatre, is that the higher you are, the less you can hear. Acoustics are not a patch on the Arles Roman amphitheatre.
2015 is a sunflower specatular!
200 million albums sold; legendary ‘pop’ crossover status and who doesn’t know Volare and Bamboleo? The Gypsy Kings were a force in world music for many years under the guidance and leadership of Chico.
As things happen, Chico and his brother split – Chico had to ‘serve time’ for copyright reasons and could not branch out on his own immediately and use his back catalogue – after all that’s what everyone wants to hear.
Chico is a son of Arles and the Camargue. Last year he stuck his big toe in the water and had a successful gig in the Arles Roman amphitheatre. This year, he went BIG!
40 cousins and relatives were on rhythm guitar. Three singers, a few guests and his main band: Chico and the Gypsies. All the old favourites. All the old songs. All the excitement and Gypsy spontaneity.
What a show! 30,000 people having a great gypsy party. Pity about the mosquitoes though!!
apparently this is going to be a regular event in Arles : get there!
A combination of deadly heat; erratic wi-fi; packing up; moving in; packing up; moving in and then Turkish Airlines to Cape Town all conspired to a hiatus in LSW.
We’re back! Hopefully, not too many of you dear readers have disappeared!
As we say good bye to the poppies until next year, let’s reflect on the poppy legend:
Long before the Great War, the red poppy had become a symbol of death, renewal and life. The seeds of the flower can remain dormant in the earth for years, but will blossom spectacularly when the soil is churned. Beginning in late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders became the scene of stupendous disturbances. Red Poppies soon appeared.
In 1915, at a Canadian dressing station north of Ypres on the Essex Farm, an exhausted physician named Lt. Col. John McCrae would take in the view of the poppy strewn Salient and experience a moment of artistic inspiration. The veteran of the South African War was able to distill in a single vision the vitality of the red poppy symbol, his respect for the sacrifice made by his patients and dead comrades, and his intense feeling of obligation to them. McCrae would capture all of this in the most famous single poem of the First World War, In Flanders Fields.
The doctor’s work achieved immediate universal popularity which was subsequently reinforced by his own death in 1918 from pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel, thus becoming one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem. Probably by the time of his internment, John McCrae’s verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans. An American war volunteer, Moina Michael, helped establish the symbol in the US where the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion also embraced the Red Poppy tradition.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.