Carmen (Vento)

Carmen in flamenco dance version, based on the novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée. Performed 2011 at the Teatro Real. Script, choreography, and lighting by Antonio Gades and Carlos Saura. Stars Vanesa Vento, Ángel Gil, Joaquín Mulero, and Jairo Rodríguez. Additional  women dancers are Conchi Maya, Cristina Carnero, Luisa Serrano, Mª José López, Maite Chico, María Nadal, Merche Recio, Virginia Guiñales, and Yolanda Rodriguez. Additional men dancers are Alberto Ferrero, Ángel Bleda, Antonio Mulero, David Martín, Elías Morales, Miguel Lara, Miguel Vallés, and Pepe Vento. The woman flamenco singer is Ángela Núñez "La Bronce"; flamenco men singers are Alfredo Tejado, Enrique Pantoja, Gabriel Cortés, and Joni Cortés. Guitarists are Antonio Solera and Camarón de Pitita. Music and poetry by Antonio Gades, Antonio Solera, Ricardo Freire González, Georges Bizet (Carmen), Manuel Penella (El Gato Montés), José Ortega Heredia, and Federico García Lorca (Verde que te quiero verde). Stage setting by Antonio Saura. Released 2012, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B

According to the survivors of Antonio Gades who appears in the extra feature, the story of Carmen is a Spanish legend. The legend was highjacked by the Frenchmen Prosper Mérimée for his book and Bizet for his opera. Now the Spaniards want it back. Still, they give credit to both Frenchmen for making the legend famous. Nor do the Spaniards mind using Bizet's famous music. In fact, the Gades/Saura dance production was the first time flamenco dancing and elements of opera were used together.

But the Gades/Saura libretto differs a lot from the libretto of the Bizet opera. In the dance libretto Carmen is married but not living with her husband. Carmen is Spanish, and not a Gypsy. Carmen assaults another girl, and the basic story of the soldier, the bullfighter, and Carmen's death is similar. But none of the other colorful singing characters of the Bizet opera are found in the dance version. With Gades/Saura, we are back to a very simple story of a legend. It will take some fleshing-out to make this substantial enough for an evening at the theater.

The fleshing-out begins with a "dance class." This shows you a bit of what life is like in a flamenco dance company. Once you realize this is not part of the actual show, you can sit back and enjoy. The leader in the white shirt is Ángel Gil, who also plays the role of Don José later: 

After the class and some images of the dancers conducting individual warm-ups, the show begins. Here we see Carmen (Vanesa Vento) in red contending with another girl named Manolita:

All the girls rush in to support one or the other of the fighters:

But Manolita was not expecting a knife slash across the cheek:

Don José arrives. You can't tell from his simple clothes, but I think he his a soldier with police functions. Other men with him arrest Carmen. But after Carmen seduces Don José, he just lets her go. In the book, Don José was Basque; and Carmen, by speaking Basque, talked him into releasing her:

But the Captain was not pleased with Don José. He's demoted and thrown into a jail represented by an enclosure of mirrors. Here we see Carmen living it up in freedom while Don José does several months detention:

But after he's released from jail, Carmen and Don José becomes lovers. Carmen is still wearing her wedding band:

The fleshing out continues with a 10+ minute fiesta por bularías, a party for comic flamenco dances and stunts. Here a woman shows her stuff:

A mock bull fight is staged in honor of the bullfighter, who is in the audience:

Suddenly the party is crashed by Carmen's husband (Joaquín Mulero)! He has a cane, but he doesn't need help walking. In this region, the cane is the weapon of choice for fighting duels between the men:

Carmen greats her husband warmly. Now she has three men who lust for her, the husband, Don José, and in the background, the bullfighter (Jairo Rodríguez):

Soon there's a duel between the husband and Don José:

The husband is the better fighter. But he makes the mistake of giving Don José a second chance when Don José is down. The winner takes all, and Carmen throws her wedding band at the prostrate husband:

Now the bullfighter starts to move in. Don José knows he can't defeat this professional killer:

But rather than give Carmen up, Don José kills her:

The company makes a traditional curtain call. But with the Compañía Antonio Gades, you get a number of "surprise" encores. In the encore shown here, the legend of Carmen in celebrated again. Later encores demonstrate the astonishing discipline and coordination of the company dancing in unison:

You can see from these screenshots that the video is quite good, and there are few if any motion artefacts. The sound is good, but the short excerpts of opera music played at the live performance were from  recordings. When I first saw this dance production, I had the detailed and poignant story of the Carmen opera in mind. This confused me because this dance version only portrays the original legend. I first gave this a "C" grade. But after learning more about this production and watching it several times again, I enjoyed it more and moved the grade up to "B." Even now I think that grade might be too low. Well, judge for yourself, because next below is this entire show on YouTube with the EuroArts trademark on it. I'll testify that the Blu-ray disc played in a decent HT is a lot more impressive than my screenshots or the on-line video.