The chief irony of Bizet’s Carmen is this: here’s an opera about Gypsies, set in Spain and sung in French. That means we can take the exoticism of both libretto and score to be a precursor to the integration debates of modern-day Europe, right? At least, that seems to be the idea behind Sebastian Baumgarten’s inscrutable production at the Komische Oper Berlin.
. Baumgarten’s take on Bizet is a typical Regietheater horror show of incongruous parts that includes video-taped witness testimony, dialogue in English, German, Spanish and French, skeleton-like effigies of Marx and Lenin, slapstick genital chastisement (don’t even ask!) and a set that represents various sites in Berlin. The best thing I can say about the production is that at least there wasn’t any gratuitous bloodletting or sex.
Among the most baffling visual touches is a ubiquitous poster of the 2010 Javier Bardem film Buitiful, with the word DEATH scrawled in red over the title. Miniature Bardems with red eyes are projected onto the set of a famously ugly housing block in Berlin.
In past performances, the KOB singers were often overwhelmed by the onstage shenanigans. Among these a flamenco dancer and duelling guitarists. If only Baumgarten had bothered to find a way to integrate flamenco into his production, rather than leave it on the side as an appealing spice.
Also – now that the Komische has started to perform in languages other than German, I’m truly at a loss to explain why persist with the distractingly clunky translation.