A ballet in Three Acts
First performed
18 September 1987
CAPAB Ballet
in the NICO Opera House
Cape Town - South Africa

Carmen outside the Cigarette Factory

Music: George Bizet
Musical arrangement & orchestration: Michael Tuffin
Decor & costume design: Peter Cazalet

NOTES by Veronica Paeper
Carmen and Don Jose

For a full-length ballet like Carmen, with its powerful and dramatic story-line, I found it necessary to "live" with the characters for 2-3 years before starting to teach the work, and thus I came to know Carmen and Don José very well.

Carmen - a gypsy and a free spirit, possessed of a wild and rebellious nature combined with a charismatic appeal for the opposite sex. Don José - a soldier, disciplined, with strong principles. Two people, poles apart, who become lovers but in whose lives fate intervenes.

During this gestation period I tried to analyse the protagonists and probe beneath the surface so that, eventually, I knew not only what they were doing, but why. Only then could I create steps to match the personalities of each character without disturbing the essential lyricism of classical ballet. Much use was made of Spanish style and technique but these have been adapted to fit in with the classical ballet idiom.

Carmen and Don Jose

George Bizet and his collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, who conceived the scenario of the opera, succeeded in my view in capturing the essence of the original Prosper Mérimee story and turning it into an excellent theatrical concept which I have attempted to convey through dance.

Notes by Peter Cazalet

Carmen as a ballet is a project with which we are trying to break the mould of how we expect ballet to look and feel. Every now and then a ballet comes along that one believes will be a milestone - a vehicle for new ideas and expressions, a chance to break new ground.

By setting the story in the oppressive plastered walls of a naturalistic Andulesian town, not a cliched picturebook Spanish backing, I am trying to show the harsh background against which this doomed love affair is played out. The sun beats down, the plaster peels; it is not a comfortable environment. The dancers must look real and earthy, and we must make the audience identify with the real passions and emotions involved.

Escamillo in the tavern

Notes by Michael Tuffin

I approached this commission with great trepidation. The thought of translating one of the world's most loved operatic scores ( with many famous "numbers") from one medium to another was, frankly, intimidating!

Carmen is not a short opera, but when the music is stripped of the text there is not enough music left for dance and mime that holds up as pure music. I surmise the reason to be that Carmen is the first of a new type of operatic expression which uses a naturalistic form of presentation, and this means that much of the opera is made up of highly expressive dialogues that carry the action forward. This is a direct contrast to the older style in which the dramatic action was pursued in recitatives, with the arias and duets, etc., used for reflection and/or comment upon the action.
Carmen and Escamillo

It is for this reason, of course, that one should theatrically experience the opera Carmen in a language one understands in order to take full advantage of this new naturalistic kind of musical theatre. Otherwise one sits there waiting for the 'well-known bits" and never gets involved in the drama. After all, opera is theatre as well as music. However, the demands of music for ballet are quite different from those for opera, and much of the music in the dramatic dialogues in Carmen is not suitable for dance. Therefor I have searched elsewhere in Bizet's oeuvre for some lessor known pieces to slip into my Carmen. I did not wish to introduce traditional Spanish folk or Flamenco music as I believe it is vitally important to stay as true as possible to the original spirit of the musical style.

Therefor I trust I have not offended the spectre of Bizet.


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