Monday, 15 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Fifteen: Favourite Tragic Role

I'm not approaching this academically and providing you with an operatic role embodying all the technical elements of a tragic protagonist (no Macbeth, Hamlet or Otello today..) Instead, I'm simply opting for the character I feel the most sympathy towards- Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Verdi's Otello, there are certain operas I am tempted to watch with my hands in front of my eyes and Carmen is a bit like that, as I find the way that the good-hearted Don Jose is dragged into the feral Carmen's clutches (only to have his life destroyed by her) utterly heartbreaking. Even if he does end up murdering her.

Last Christmas I finally got round to reading Prosper Merimee's novella on which Bizet's opera is based and was bowled over by the desperate situation that Jose Lizarrabengoa (the original Don Jose) gets himself into. OK, he isn't whiter than white like Bizet's doomed hero (Lizarrabengoa has killed a man before even meeting the famous gypsy) but he does get entangled in her web, is forced to become an outlaw and ends up handing himself in to face execution after stabbing her.

But what is it that draws Carmen to the ill-fated soldier, and what attributes make the perfect Don Jose? You have to wonder if she's out for a bit of sport, or if there's a serious sexual dynamic to the whole thing. I think there should be a frisson of something real between the two of them, but Carmen's obviously a girl who likes a bit of a challenge, so maybe it doesn't matter if he's wearing the grey cardigan that Opera North put Peter Auty in for their new production of the opera last season, or the National Health issue spectacles Jonas Kaufmann sported in the role in Zurich in 2008.

I think I want to see an essentially good man unable to resist the temptation, blinded by the gypsy spell and with an increasing air of sadness as things start to go a bit wrong. I want to feel heartbroken that control and reason are sliding away from him, and to cry when he sings Le fleur que tu m'avais jetee. And when JK sings it, I really do. Could he be the best Don Jose of all time? When I first saw him sing the aria in a recording of the 2006 Royal Opera House production, he really took my breath away.

1 comment:

  1. Amen to this. It's truly heart-breaking what happens to this man. I read the novella this year, too, and find Don Jose to be such a multi-faceted character. I do think that Carmen seduces him merely to get out of going to jail. Normally I feel bad for the woman in a bad romance, but with this one, I'm firmly in Don Jose's camp.