© Erik Berg, Den Norske Opera & Ballett

Carmen at the Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House is a fine example of contemporary architecture, quite a contrast to the opera venues which I have been to in the past. The performance of Bizet’s Carmen too, was far from traditional.

The opera tells the story of a woman who breaks the stereotypes of her time. Carmen is confident, and feisty and prizes her freedom above all. She sings, in the famous Habanera “If I love you, and you love me not, then you better watch out!” It is not difficult to imagine why Carmen scandalised audiences when it premiered in Paris in 1875. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Calixto Bieito’s version, set in 1970’s post-Franco Spain shocked some of the modern day audiences in Oslo.

The production made no attempt to tame down the characters, and quite literally let them run wild on stage. It was filled with no-so-subtle depictions of the characters’ sexual drives, all very unexpected for the traditionalist opera-goer. But I appreciated the fact that the production accentuated the main theme of the opera, which is all about freedom to follow one’s desires.

What also stood out for me was the contrast between the characters of Micaela and Carmen. While one pines for love, the other takes control and seduces men to escape prison. The contrast was highlighted even more by their singing, with Micaela’s sweet and melodious notes juxtaposed with Carmen’s powerful ones. The rest of the chorus did a decent job, although Escamillo’s Toreador lacked the depth and power which I have come to associate with the famous song.

The orchestra played well, and it was a pleasure to hear music conducted by Eun Sun Kim. It made me wonder why there are so few female conductors. But it was only fitting that a woman led the orchestra, paying tribute to Bizet’s heroine.

The opera was a better theatric performance than a musical one, and although I enjoyed it, I was left wishing for more. But what makes life interesting is stepping out of one’s comfort zone and experiencing new forms of art with an open mind, even though they might look and sound different from what one has grown fond of. After all, the next masterpiece might be right around the corner!