After making her Adelaide Fringe debut with Disenchanted, a Cabaret of Twisted Fairy Tales last year, Eliane Morel returns this year with a new show, Carmen the Cabaret. We have a chat to Eliane about her show.
Bonjour Eliane, you’re coming back to Adelaide Fringe; this time with a new show Carmen the Cabaret. Can you please tell us a bit about the show?
Carmen the Cabaret is a one-woman (plus accompanist) exploration of the opera Carmen that delves into its history, plays with its music and critiques its plot and underlying sexism and racism in a humorous way, while showing how the role of Carmen affects those who take it on.
As a mezzo soprano I have performed the role of Carmen a few times with Opera Bites, a company that specialises in making opera accessible by performing it in English. In preparing for that role, as a half-Vietnamese French speaker I re-translated all of Carmen’s lyrics from the French into English, which made me fall in love with the character even more than I already had. She’s funny, comfortable with her sexuality and knows what she wants. She’s also an outsider – a Roma woman in Spain.
People, including her love-interest, Don Jose, are drawn to her because of these qualities. But when I performed Carmen, I overheard audiences afterwards blaming her for her own death: “She’s such a hussy.” “What a minx!” “Oh goodness, she really led him on!” I realised I had to do a cabaret to give people the kind of insight into Carmen that I had got from diving so deeply into her character.
In addition, Daryl Wallis (my accompanist and musical collaborator) and I really want to help audiences appreciate the beauty of Carmen’s music, and experience an operatic voice in an intimate setting while at the same time playing with Carmen’s music to explore how it manipulates our thoughts and emotions.
The show is inspired by French composer Bizet’s opera Carmen. For those not familiar with the opera, can you give us a brief summary?
In a nutshell… the opera is set in 1830s Spain. Carmen is a free-spirited ‘gypsy’ woman (i.e. an outsider) who works a casual job in a tobacco factory in Seville, but moonlights as a smuggler and relishes her freedom. A seemingly strait-laced soldier, Don Jose, becomes obsessed with her. They have a love-hate relationship, and when another man (Escamillo, a bullfighter) comes on the scene, Don Jose gets violent. In the end, Don Jose kills Carmen because he can’t have her to himself.
You’ve performed Habanera from Carmen more times than you can count (and have performed the role 3 times). For those unfamiliar with the Habanera, what is it?
If I sang the first couple of bars for you, I’m sure you’d know it – the bass line is instantly recognisable.
The Habanera is a type of rhythm from Havana, and it’s also the name of Carmen’s introductory song where she explains to all those present her theories about love: “Love is a wild bird no one can capture. You can call, but it won’t come, if it’s not in the mood. Love is like a wanton child. It knows no law except its own desire. If you don’t love me, I’ll love you. And if I love you, watch out!” So in the Habanera she paints herself as a woman who’s dangerous to love.
When you’re not performing cabaret shows, you’re the principal Mezzo-soprano with boutique opera company, Opera Bites. What drew you to opera?
My mother used to play opera records all the time when I was growing up, so I got used to the sound of opera very early on. I think the first opera I saw was Ingmar Bergman’s film production of The Magic Flute by Mozart. I just fell in love.
But, as I explain in the show, I don’t love all opera, and I do look at it with a critical and often humorous eye. Which is probably why I love working with Opera Bites – while we’re serious about the singing, our productions are fun and often a bit tongue-in-cheek.
What musical training have you had? Have you been singing since childhood?
Yes, I’ve loved singing since I can remember, and started lessons quite early – aged about 10. I began my formal opera studies at the Canberra School of Music, then went on to study with Susan Reppion-Brooke, Sue Falk and, for the last 8 years or so, Ghillian Sullivan, who is also the Director of this show.
When did you decide to pursue a career in the arts, and why?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to write for theatre, sing and act. I ended up studying all three, and found myself drawn to cabaret because it combines all three. However, I had a hiatus between the ages of 30 and 44, when I took up a career in Market research so we could have kids and pay off our mortgage. After I’d done my time in that career (and it really did feel like doing time!), I re-started my writing, singing and acting about 10 years ago, and haven’t looked back!
Your award-winning cabaret show Disenchanted looked at the roles of women in the fairy tales we grew up with and questioned whether the villains were really that bad. Carmen the Cabaret examines the character of Carmen and whether, among other questions, if she is a femme fatale, why does she die?
That’s a really interesting question. People throw around this phrase, ‘femme fatale’, and you’d think it means a woman who kills men, right? In the Habanera, Carmen warns people that loving her is dangerous and you’d better watch out if she loves you, but in the end Don Jose kills her. It turns out love is much more dangerous to her than it is to him! So maybe a ‘femme fatale’ is a woman who men perceive to be dangerous because she doesn’t conform to their expectations. I wrote Carmen the Cabaret to interrogate that very question.
Carmen the Cabaret is directed by international opera legend Ghillian Sullivan. How did you come to work with Ghillian?
I went to a workshop on opera stagecraft Ghilly was conducting. I thought she was brilliant – so knowledgeable and full of great ideas, with an excellent eye for humour and pathos – and she was a great teacher – so I asked if she would teach me. We clicked immediately and I’ve loved working with her ever since. I was really honoured when she accepted my invitation to direct this show.
What can audiences expect from the show?
This show’s got everything – great music, humour, pathos, a séance, a bit of a lecture, some singing along, and hopefully it’s thought-provoking as well as being entertaining.
Do audiences need to be familiar with the story of Carmen, or lovers of opera to appreciate the show?
No, like Opera Bites, I wanted to make something accessible for all audiences – those with a knowledge of Carmen and those without, and those with no knowledge of opera at all.
For those who do know Carmen, it will hopefully give you a new and different insight into the opera. For those who don’t, it’ll give you a great introduction to the story, Carmen’s character and all the best tunes from the opera.
That said, for those who think they don’t know it, I reckon you’d be surprised how many of the tunes you are already familiar with. For example, if you can sing the Geelong team song, you already know one of the most famous tunes from Carmen – the Toreador.
Who would you say this show is for?
Music lovers, anyone who’s interested in seeing Carmen the opera as a cabaret, anyone who doesn’t know anything about opera but would like to find out in a very entertaining 50 minutes.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We are so excited to be returning to Adelaide for the Fringe. Last year was my first time in Adelaide during the festival season and for me it was like being in heaven. Adelaide people were so kind and supportive and we had such a wonderful audience response to Disenchanted. Carmen the Cabaret is a totally different show, but Daryl and I bring to it all the same elements that we had in Disenchanted: cheeky humour, beautiful music and singing, clever writing and great characterisation. We think audiences are going to love it!
We thank Eliane Morel for this interview and look forward to seeing Carmen the cabaret at Adelaide Fringe 2023.
KEY INFO FOR CARMEN THE CABARET
WHAT: Carmen the Cabaret
WHERE: The Garage International @ Adelaide Town Hall, 128 King William Street, Ener via Pirie Street or Flinders St Laneways
WHEN: The show will be presented on the following dates:
- 8:40pm Wednesday 22 February
- 8:20pm Thursday 23 February
- 8:20pm Friday 24 February
- 9:10pm Saturday 25 February
HOW: Purchase your tickets via this link: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/carmen-the-cabaret-af2023
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices are as follows:
- Full Price: $35
- Concession: $30
- Family: $120
- Bank SA Cardholder $26.25
- Double Your Applause – Admits 1: $70
- Companion Card FREE
Have you ever seen the opera Carmen?
Discover more Adelaide Fringe 2023 shows with French and francophone links here
For other events with French and francophone links happening in Australia this month, check out our What’s on in February?