Which Carmen are you?
María del Carmen Martínez Valdivia

Carmen has always caught my interest. As a name because my mother was named Carmen. I have also met two Italian males named Carmen. I have met a couple of girls named Carmen, but I can’t seem to get too involved with a girl with my mother’s name.

In high school, I had to read part of the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. As I learned later in life, French composers have written some of the best Spanish classical music ever. That’s just one of those mysteries of the universe! I don’t even remember in which class I read Carmen the opera or even why. But I do remember that it was a French opera about a gypsy who lived in Spain. Later, because of my interest in Carmen the opera, I read the book Carmen written by Prosper Mérimée on which Bizet based his opera. Eventually, I saw a video of the opera Carmen and loved it.

I love watching different interpretations of the same work. So I was ecstatic when I saw the movie Carmen by director Carlos Saura. The characters in the movie decide to produce a stage version of the opera Carmen while also referring to the original book by Merimee. The movie is set in Spain, so they will make a flamenco version of Carmen. There is a lot of wonderful flamenco dancing and guitar music in the movie. The main problem for the director Carlos of the flamenco version is finding the perfect Carmen. Well, as luck would have he finds her: her name happens to be Carmen and she also happens to be a gypsy. The movie blurs the line between fiction and reality on multiple levels and the viewer must differentiate between the action of the characters of the flamenco version and the actors who portray those characters. Sometimes the actions and emotions of the actors and characters overlap.

I also recently saw–again!–the movie Carmen Jones that stars an all-African-American cast. The movie follows Bizet’s storyline faithfully and uses his music, but the lyrics were changed to suit the updated plot and characters. The story takes place down south near an army base, perhaps some time around WWII. Carmen works in a parachute factory instead of a cigar factory. Instead of a toreador as the rival lover, there’s a boxer. Don Jose is still a soldier, but a U.S. Soldier. The movie is very good and the lyrics that are true to the characters are sung well by Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Of course, none of this would have been possible without Bizet’s wonderful Spanish music.

I was once at Blockbuster and saw another version of Carmen, a hip hop version. I didn’t have time to watch it, so I didn’t rent it. Now that I have some time, I plan on seeing it. I wonder how faithful the movie is to Bizet and Mérimée. I’ll have to watch it real soon!

Which Carmen are you? Why, Carmen, of course!