Last weekend I was fortunate to see U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a 2005 adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen.
The score is a mix of Bizet & South African music, which is only natural considering that the adaptation is set in a South African township (Khayelitsha) in modern day.
At one time in the 1980s it seemed that Carmen was being adapted by everyone, from Carlos Saura’s flamenco version, to rival skating versions from American Debi Thomas and East German Katarina Witt, so I shouldn’t be surprised to happily encounter this version on one of our wonderful French language TV channels in the Toronto area.
The main story is still there, the love of policeman Jongikhaya (rather han Don José) for Carmen the cigarette girl. Instead of being involved with smugglers, Carmen involves Jongikhaya in drug trafficking. Instead of a love triangle with Escamillo the bullfighter, the other man is Lulamile Nkomo, a singer. The language is African (one of them… no idea which) rather than French, although the broadcast on the French channel had subtitles in French.
Mark Dornford-May directed it. One of the ways in which this adaptation is modernized is the level of violence, and not just at the end. Be prepared, because while this makes the film seem real, it can be shocking to see.
The performances are not operatic in the slightest. By that, I mean they’re good, cinematic and gripping in all the right ways. None of the performers had ever done this kind of thing before, which is why they’re all so convincing. I am reminded of Debussy’s admonition to his cast for the opening of the first Pelléas et Mélisande, when he asked them to forget they were singers. And so this film is not operatic in the usual ways: which is good!. Instead of forgetting, they simply don’t know the usual procedures The singing is often out of tune, but has wonderful commitment from the performers. On the basis of seeing U-Carmen eKhayelitsha I believe this is a much better way to proceed, considering how often opera singers can’t sing in tune either. At least this time they create something genuinely dramatic.
I like it!
Here’s a look at the end (be advised that the last note is missing from this clip)