Wednesday 1 July 2009

Alternative views of Carmen - tales of cross dressing

Having seen a relatively small scale Carmen on Sunday has set me thinking. I began wonder whether the modern generation of counter-tenors could take on the role. There would be no point in having Carmen played by a man in drag in a traditional production. But what if Carmen became one of the transvestite hookers who worked the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (perhaps they still do). I think the story updating could make a lot of sense, with the smugglers being turned into a gang of thieves or perhaps drug dealers. This would give a chance for some extra tension between the man, the woman and the man/woman.

A few years ago Stephen Wallace gave us the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe (no, I know its not very close to Carmen) but the production seemed to make nothing of the fact that we had a man playing a woman, definitely a lost opportunity.

I have been listening to a boxed set of 6 Handel operas for a review and a few of them had roles for soprano castratos. Handel's use of this voice type was relatively rare, he tended to use altos. So that altos and mezzo-sopranos are used to playing men in the operas. But when sopranos do so, at least on record, the result is not always convincing. They still sound like women, do we need to start exploring how a soprano might sing a castrato role and at least give some indication that she is a man?

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