Saturday, March 24, 2012

Elīna Garanča, George Bizet and the Song of Solomon

Elīna Garanča  as Carmen
Photo WXXI

Had George Bizet seen the Latvian beauty, Elīna Garanča, performing Carmen in Richard Eyre’s stunning Metropolitan Opera 2010 production he would probably shouted "Voilà!" (Yess! in French)

For she looks, behaves and sings like Carmen. Here is a sample from the wonderful performance - and what a voice!

"Carmen, I'm like a man gone made for you."

We all realize very soon that private Don José (Roberto Alagna) has absolutely no chance of surviving the seductive charms of this femme fatale. After all, toreador Escamillo (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) is Ole! Ole! all over and not just in the bullfight ring. There is no comparison between the handsome Spanish hero and the humble army deserter Don José.

Carmen is not only showing her female power over men by cruelly tearing Don José's heart from pure Micaëla (Barbara Frittoli) - the guy is willing to abandon everything in this life just to be with her. For a woman she is as God created them.

Matter of life and death for Bizet
It is, of course, not entirely correct to say that George Bizet (1838-1875) was born to compose Carmen. He surely did many other things during his short life. But Carmen is his main achievement and he invested everything on it as he seemed fit bravely ignoring the modesty requirements of his time. When the critics crushed the opera after its first performances in Opéra-Comique in Paris 1874 Bizet just got ill - he withered away and died. Carmen was his life.

Bizet never witnessed the enormous fame his life work would gain in Europe and especially in the USA. Today Carmen is the most frequently performed opera and people just love it. Many who have never set their foot in an opera house keep humming along with the familiar and catchy Habanera or their spirits are lifted by marching along the beat of the spectacular Le toréador .

Art with deep message about love
So if this is George Bizet's greatest life achievement - and it is - so what did he achieve? A bit entertainment for the rich folks?

The performance of Elīna Garanča gives the answer: Carmen is a real woman and not just a figment of imagination.

With subtle looks and not always so subtle gestures and moves she gives a magnificent mezzo-soprano performance of a woman who is playing with love and thinks she is in control of it.

There are such women - not all as beautiful and seductive as Elīna Garanča but as effective with the tools they have to control men and their hearts. Oh yes, there are such women.

Thus, George Bizet's opera is not just high art and as such great entertainment but it has a serious message underlined by his own death soon after the première.

The Bible puts the same message that makes Carmen such a truthful opera in this way: "love is strong as death"

Song of Solomon
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up nor awake my love, until he please."

"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree; there thy mother brought thee forth; there she brought thee forth that bore thee."

"Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame."

"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned."
Song of Solomon 8:4-7 KJ21

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