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“Carmen in a reduced instrumentation” – Bizet’s masterpiece in Marius Felix Lange’s chamber version

The Corona period has brought unexpected work adaptations with it, especially for theatres and opera houses, which have to become accustomed to limited performance conditions. After already having compiled chamber operas and children’s operas inreduced vocal and instrumental settings for you on our website in recent months, we can now report on the world premiere of a Carmen with a reduced cast at the Hanover State Opera.

None other than Marius Felix Lange, the creator of such successful operas as The Canterville Ghost and Snow White, was commissioned by this house to produce a reduced version of Georges Bizet’s opera classic after Prosper Mérimée’s novella of the same name.

Lange endeavoured to transfer the dazzling orchestral colours of Bizet’s score to a chamber orchestra, thereby transferring the power and energy of the music to a new dimension of sound. The world premiere of this version of Carmen, directed by Barbara Horáková and under the musical direction of Stephan Zilias, will take place in Hanover on 24 October 2020. James Rosental is responsible for the choreographic interludes.

We spoke to Marius Felix Lange about his work on this chamber version of Carmen: 

What do you find most fascinating about Georges Bizet's Carmen?  

Marius Felix Lange: It's not for nothing that Carmen is one of the world's most popular and most-performed operas. Personally, I am enthusiastic about the abundance of fantastic compositional ideas, which are presented in the utmost clarity and unambiguity of means and language, as well as the steadily increasing dramaturgical and musical condensation of the work.From today's perspective, I find it striking that the story, which is basically that of a femicide, i.e. the murder of a woman for the sake of being a woman, is still a “tragic love story” between a “femme fatale” and a man who is hers irresistible attraction is lost, told and sold (if you enter “tragic love story” and “Carmen” on Google, you get over 15,000 results). I think that's problematic.

Do you maintain or counteract Bizet’s orchestral colour in your chamber version?

Due to the clearly reduced instrumentation - solo strings, simple wood, and brass (with tuba), plus harp and percussion - it is not really possible to preserve Bizet’s orchestral colouring, which always originates from the palette of a symphonic apparatus. There are numbers in which I try to correspond as closely as possible to Bizet’s wonderful instrumentation and others in which completely new colours are created. The respective decision on this is primarily based on dramaturgical considerations. In the numbers that are newly composed (Don José’s Basque song, Carmen’s song on Caló), I was naturally free, also in the choice of timbre.

Given the corona conditions, how does this opera work without a choir?

It was also important to me that the linguistic identity of Carmen and Don José, which plays a major role at Merimée, be brought to bear. In Merimée, Don José sings a song in Basque, while Carmen often speaks in her own language – Caló. So, both are also characterised by their language as strangers in Andalusian Cordoba, and Sevilla respectively.

I was lucky enough to find two poems written as if for our story, one in Caló (from G. Borrows unique book The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies in Spain, 1841) and one in Basque (Jean Baptiste’s Elizanburu, written in 1862), which are now sung in our version as songs by Carmen and Don José, each at a dramaturgically important moment.

With the removal of the choir, the action (which has also been shortened to about 90 minutes) between the main protagonists is even more concentrated and dense. However, the choral numbers have not been completely omitted but, depending on the dramaturgical context, have also been integrated into orchestral interludes or taken over by the soloists.

Hannover (Staatsoper)
World Premiere Marius Felix Lange:
Carmen. Chamber opera after Georges Bizet
Musical direction: Stephan Zilias 
Staging: Barbora Horáková 
Choreography: James Rosental 

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