An Open Letter to Bernard Uzan

Posted on by Merridawn

Dear Mr. Uzan,

Recently my family and I saw your production of Seattle Opera’s Carmen. I know that sentence should read “Seattle Opera’s production” but I’m sticking to my guns. This was a writers Carmen and since I am a writer I recognized it, the way one does with a stranger who is nevertheless a familiar, glancing into each other’s eyes in passing.

I am an unabashed opera fan, since I saw my first opera in the Portland Rose Garden at seven. My mother said I cried, but I don’t really remember that part. I remember the extravagant woman in the black mantilla and the frenzy she inspired. Since then I have been lucky to see lots of Carmen’s—voluptuous, vampy, the imperious, the carefree, the sexy and the spaced out. This Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili had a stunning voice and she dominated the stage in a visceral, thrilling way. In the beginning she’s so feral, when the stage darkens and she casually, almost randomly, sets her sights on Don Jose, it’s like a beautiful wolf alighting on the next meal, with no more moral compunction than hunger.

But who chose to darken that stage? I think it was the novelist in you. We know what is going to happen, yet your production had me on the edge of my seat. I felt a writer’s vision in the weight of each choice, massing the children’s choir, the lights going down, down into the smugglers lair, which drew out the psychological nuance of every moment. There is floating around a ridiculous notion that this opera should be called Don Jose. But, really, who is he?  A country bumpkin who has one idea of what to do with a force he can neither conquer nor understand—to kill it.

A unified vision is the domain of the director. They are interpreters, translators, sometimes stiff, sometimes so free as to have left the original ideas panting for breath. But a writer, a good writer, has a special training in the development of characters. They love the bad ones as well as the good ones and they demonstrate that love the way a writer can, by capturing them perfectly. At the end, Rachvelishvili was the picture of true royalty. When offered an out—to avoid a crazy, dangerous Don Jose—she cannot help her courage. It is endemic. In your production, varieties of the psychology of all kinds of love are a subject in Carmen. A subject, not an on object.

The sad truth is that there is very little leeway with the difficult art forms. If you see a bad movie, you’ll just go see another one. If you see a bad opera, suddenly you don’t like opera. I would hope a producer will notice what happens when a writer is put in charge of text and story—they honor it and the audience and performers respond ecstatically. Spectacular voices are not as rare as visionary directors. Thank you for drawing out the inner life of this story so beautifully, we experienced the scenes not as picture but like chapters in a book we just couldn’t put down.

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