After her Adelaide Fringe debut with Disenchanted: A cabaret of twisted fairy tales last year, Eliane Morel has returned to The Garage International with a new show Carmen the Cabaret. Just as Disenchanted turned the stories we know on their heads by giving the bad, evil, maligned characters a chance to speak for themselves, Carmen the Cabaret looks at Georges Bizet’s Carmen and lets Carmen tell her own story. Carmen gets to speak her own truth.
Eliane opens by asking the audience who among them are opera lovers, who are Carmen the opera lovers, and who have no idea about Carmen the opera. On the night we attended, the majority of the crowd fell into the first two categories and were thus familiar with the story of Carmen. Eliane then shows the rest of the audience that even though they thought they had no idea about Carmen the opera, quite a few of the songs will be familiar. From the prelude to Carmen, which has been in numerous advertisements, to the bullfighter song Toreador, which has been adapted by the Geelong football club or adopted by a roller-door company.
Using Tarot cards from 1760s Marseille, which Eliane had reproduced just for the show (such is the level of detail and care she has shown) Eliane summons Carmen to Pilgrim Uniting Church (where venue The Garage International is set up for Adelaide Fringe) to tell her story. The vaulted ceilings of the church lend themselves perfectly to a calling to the spirits and also provide perfect acoustics for Eliane’s lofty voice when she performs Carmen’s songs. And what a voice that is! Eliane’s opera experience and vocal talent are showcased exceptionally well, particularly when she is performing just with a piano and without the backing of an orchestra that an opera would usually have.
Carmen the cabaret is performed with just Eliane Morel on stage and Daryl Wallis on keys. Eliane steps into the role of Carmen and allows her to explain in her own terms just what happened. Her ability to go from simple speech straight into opera singing was quite incredible and impressed us. Eliane regularly works with Opera Bites and based on this performance, we would recommend you see their shows if she’s in them (if you’re in Sydney where they perform). Eliane engaged with the audience choosing one front row audience member as her Don Juan but never made the engagement uncomfortable and the night’s chosen Don Juan seemed quite at ease with being called upon (only from his seat) to respond occasionally.
Eliane’s passion for Carmen is evident from the moment the show begins to the time it ends. So too, is her desire to show that Carmen isn’t just a floozy, or a hussy that leads men on and that quite frankly that attitude is so 1875 (when Carmen was written). To achieve this, not only does she allow Carmen to tell her own story but chimes in over speakers to offer her own little nudges and occasional commentary. There are jabs at the tobacco industry, at Bizet himself for including a stereotypical gypsy song rather than one that was actually accurate, and at society from both then and now about the way in which we view, and treat, women.
Carmen the Cabaret is a very enjoyable way to discover Carmen the opera as well as to view it from a different perspective than the one usually offered.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Fringe.
The Adelaide Fringe season of Carmen the cabaret has now concluded.
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Interview with Eliane Morel about Carmen the cabaret here
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