Carmen La Cubana at Sadlers Wells
Bizet’s Carmen has a timeless appeal that has somehow survived through all the reinventions and tweaks that many a director has subjected it to through the years. There is something about its indomitable heroine and those infamous tunes that invariably captivates. Carmen La Cubana is no exception. Starring jazz singer Luna Manzanares in the leading role and an all-Cuban cast including a lively ensemble of dancers and a 14-member strong band, the musical is performed in Spanish (with English surtitles) and it benefits greatly from this as it maintains the passion of the original Andalusian setting. The added tensions of the Cuban revolution unfolding in the background bring a sense of urgency and even more pathos to Carmen’s fate.
A group of soldiers take up station opposite a cigar factory and become infatuated with one of the workers, the seductive and outspoken Carmen. She is playful but uninterested in them, until she notices the laid-back José, who only has eyes for his fiancée Marilú. When Carmen becomes involved in a fight and is arrested, José is ordered to take her to jail. On the way, she uses her charms to seduce him and attain freedom. The two go to Havana to live together as a couple, but Carmen is unable to resist the capital’s charms and wants to claim her status as queen of its nightlife scene. Her desire to live by her own rules, however, complicates her life beyond repair.
The story retains the main features of Bizet’s version, adding some unique elements inspired by director Christopher Renshaw’s experience in Cuba while researching for the production. He introduces, for instance, an old lady who foresees the fate of the characters, as well as the country’s, as a nod to the Santería religion and its beliefs regarding fate and spirits. Renshaw also borrows freely from the 1943 Broadway rendition, Carmen Jones, which is set within an African-American community and replaces the character of the celebrated toreador Escamillo with a boxer.
Featuring upbeat adaptations of the original musical pieces, including the often reprised Habanera of course, the soundtrack of Carmen La Cubana is infused with Cuban rhythms and moves from infectiously joyous to mystically solemn. The island’s rich dance tradition allows for ample diversity and play in the choreographies, too. Cuba, in short, seems like an apt and natural setting for this story, detracting little and adding many a complementary element.
Deemed a daring opera when it first premiered 150 years ago, the story of a woman who refuses to compromise is still powerful in so many ways. Renshaw’s take on Carmen may not be groundbreaking, but it is a wonderful, fun, poignant reinterpretation that adds sizzle to an already fiery story.
Carmen La Cubana is at Sadlers Wells from 1st until 18th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Carmen La Cubana here: