I went to see Carmen at the Sydney Opera House a couple of weeks ago. I love the music! Prior to going, I didn’t really know what the opera was about (I’m not an avid opera fan). From what I can gather, from what was happening on stage and the surtitles above it (the English translation doesn’t seem to really fit the long convulute lines of the singers, by the way), the story-line is complex and full of passion, obsession and the clashing of cultures.
On the one hand there is the gypsy culture, apparently full of fiery independent women and men whose passions include their belief in Self (individually and as a collective) and living life (dancing, singing, drinking and sex). On the other hand, there are the non-gypies (sorry, I didn’t manage to pick up who they were exactly); traditional, conservative, and possibly a touch repressed.
Carmen is the epitome of free thinking and living woman. Don Juan the opposite. He wants her, knows he can only have her on her terms, but can’t reconcile himself to that. I’m not sure why she wants him and I can’t decide if I like her or not. She is a free woman and does what she wants, but she’s also incredibly selfish, arrogant and though she has bucket loads of passion, she doesn’t appear to have a whole lot of compassion.
Freedom though has many levels of meaning. I am a free woman and yet also bound by commitment to family. I would not hurt others merely to satisfy my wants. Freedom, to me, does not mean free to do whatever the hell I like and damn the consequences to the people around me.
Carmen is a free woman and uses that to mess around with the freedom of others. She leads Don Juan into “slavery” – he must do what she wants him to if he wants her attentions. Yet, she does not appear to care for his freedom at all. He gives up everything for her and is driven to the depths of despair. Her passions are all she cares about.
I don’t excuse Don Juan either; he wants to own what he knows is a free spirit and therefore, un-ownable. He walks into the relationship knowing that her fancy is fickle and her passions her own to share as she likes. He wants to quell the very thing that attracts him to her in the first place and turn her into the traditional “wife” of the times. He dances too close to the fire and becomes a raging inferno as a result.
What I’ve been thinking about since the first act of “Carmen” is whether she is a slut or whether that is just my cultural background that tags her as such. A woman, especially a woman with no familial ties, is free to sleep with who she likes when she likes. She is free to move house, change jobs, wear whatever fashion she prefers, travel or not without fear of comment. So why does it makes such a difference if she has a hundred different partners or only one. Who cares? It’s her life.
Slut is a word used to put down free women so that woman, in general, is easier to control and so that other women may feel better about their controlled lives.
I don’t believe Carmen is a slut. I do believe she is a stereotype that shows the dangers of “acting out” for man and woman. For men, it is something like, “look at what loving a free woman will do to your manhood”. For women, it’s “look what freedom gets you, unhappiness and death in a dusty town square”.
I suppose that’s what makes it such a popular story; I would have preferred it if she’d gone on to lead her people to victory rather than tagging herself to the bull-fighter and an ignoble death in the dirt, but perhaps that’s just my modern take on what freedom is all about.
Freedom is about a whole life, not one aspect of it.
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