>reviewed by Daniel Lim

>date: 15 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Spanish, to me is a dramatic, emotional and passionate language. In CARMEN, I anticipated no less, what with the 'wedding' of a classic Andalusian opera with flamboyant flamenco dance. Set in the early 19th century, Carmen was a beautiful gypsy cigar-maker, who defied convention to live and love; and then to tragically die at the hands of her lover.
The opera opened to a blaring of bugles and drums, with a full military band marching up raised platforms on both sides of the stage. One by one, russet-clothed grim-faced gypsy-women sauntered in, bewailing their miserable lives under society's exploitation, before proceeding to sit by the sides. From that moment on, I felt their misery, literally.

I do NOT speak Spanish. And as the whole opera was in Spanish, I was expecting to sense the love, jealousy and hate, and to see the vengeance and vendetta unfold, through my heart. To my despair, the gypsy singing quartet with their wailing sculpted din instead of sentiment. I attained minute comprehension and comprehensive irritation. Sadly, throughout the whole performance, in not one instance was that universal language barrier ever breached and my emotions stirred.

>>'Sadly, throughout the whole performance, in not one instance was the language barrier ever breached and my emotions stirred.'


Unlike Viente Leo's book "Images of Seville Society, 1970-1868" the issue of the liberation struggle of "a new female working class" was in no way romanticised in the opera. Under Salvador Tavora's creation and direction, the 'truer' Carmen was portrayed as a conniving temptress, who made Don Jose (her betrayed military lover) kill his officer and go to jail for her. When he was released, she rejected him whilst flirting with other men, and then fell headfirst in love with Lucas, a famous picador. In anguish and dishonour, Don Jose stabbed her to death, a fitting end to a senseless tragedy.

Arguably CARMEN, as a dance production, was absorbing with Lalo Tejada (as Carmen) and Marco Vargas (as Don Jose) and the rest of the non-singing cast wooing the audience with their footwork and dance routines. However, even that was overshadowed by the spellbinding guitar playing by Manuel Berraquerro and Miguel Aragon, the two maestros with invisible fingers, on the right of the stage in traditional garb complete with floppy hats.

Still, the white stallion was the main highlight of the show, with Jaime de la Puerta (as Lucas the picador) keeping amazing control of his prancing charge amidst all the chaos of the drums, bugles and singing.

CARMEN is a creative experiment that failed, as it is so difficult to coalesce dance and opera together. For in order to evoke passion, understanding and appreciation from the audience; the cast must be able to both sing AND dance the plot with zealous abandon and expression, which did not happen. Thus to me CARMEN, as an international acclaimed production, disappointed.

Looking back, at least I now know that cigars were once roll-made on the thighs of damsels in distress.