Bizet’s sultry señorita is back

If ever there was a performance to lift your spirits during the dull, dreary days of January, it is Carmen. Georges Bizet’s classic opera − full of steamy Spanish passion, eroticism, raucous stage scenes and familiar songs that will have you swaying on your haunches − will be the first performance of 2013 at the Copenhagen Opera House and it promises to kick off the new year in spectacular fashion.

Written by French composer Bizet with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Carmen was first performed in Paris in 1875. It’s based on a novel by the same title and tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the worldly-wise gypsy Carmen. José sacrifices everything in a bid to win Carmen’s heart, abandoning his childhood sweetheart and his military career. But when Carmen chooses the glamorous toreador Escamillo instead, José kills her in a jealous rage.

With its bawdy working class scenes and themes of lawlessness and immorality, Carmen at first proved controversial, yet not particularly successful. Sadly it was only after Bizet’s death that it began to gain critical acclaim. Today it has become one of the most recognised and well-loved operas performed on stages throughout the world. This particular production by Scottish director David McVicar was originally created for the Glyndebourne Festival where it received rave reviews. It premiered at the Royal Danish Theatre three years ago and now it’s back, this time with Carmen sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci, the celebrated French soprano who has already proved herself in the role at the Royal Opera House in London and at the Opera Comique. Tenor Andrew Richards, who appeared as Don José at La Scala in Milan, takes the role of her besotted pursuer.

There’s plenty of Danish talent on show too. Musicians and singers from the Royal Danish Orchestra, the Royal Danish Opera Chorus, the Danish Boys’ Choir and the Danish Girls’ Choir will be conducted by Vello Pahn and Alexander Prior, while the Tivoli Pantomime Theatre is providing back-up dancers, who will be choreographed by Andrew George. The gritty set design – think factory floors and dingy bar scenes –  is the work of Michael Vale, and Paule Constable is in charge of lighting, while the magnificent costumes, including Carmen’s cleavage-spilling corsets and Escamillo’s outrageous gold-encrusted bull-fighting get-up, are designed by Sue Blane.

The 225-minute performance is sung in French with Danish supertitles, but even the most casual of opera-goers will recognise Bizet’s catchy rhythms and melodic songs. The toreador’s song, ‘Votre toast’ from Act Two, is one of the most popular and best-known of all operatic arias, while Carmen’s ‘Habanera’, based on the idiomatic song ‘El Arreglito’ by Spanish-American composer Sebastian Iradier, is also one of those instantly recognisable tunes that once heard lodges itself in your memory forever. It is the accessibility of this music, the easy to follow plot and the bustling, rowdy group scenes that give Carmen its universal appeal. Given how popular it was the first time around, you’re well advised to book your seats now.

Store Scene, Ekvipagemestervej 10, Cph K; starts Mon, ends 20 March, performances at 19:00 (unless stated) on Mon, Wed, Jan 11, Jan 15, Jan 17, Jan 26, Jan 30, Feb 4 (19:30), Feb 6 (19:30), Feb 8, Feb 10 (15:00), Feb 13, Feb 15, Mar 3(15:00), Mar 6 (19:30), Mar 11 (19:30), Mar 14 (19:30), Mar 20 (19:30); tickets: 125-895kr,, 3369 6969; 225 mins with intermission; sung in French with Danish supertitles