In Carmen the Cabaret, Eliane Morel ponders if Carmen is a femme fatale why does she die?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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.

Carmen the cabaret

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 Carmenthe 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?

 

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Les Commandos Percus bring their show Silence! to Adelaide Fringe 2023

Reading Time: 7 minutes
International street arts company Les Commandos Percu is coming to Australia to present their show Silence! at Adelaide Fringe 2023 next month. We spoke to Audrey Itier, Production Administrator at Les Commandos Percu. Read our interview with her below.
Les Commandos Percu - Silence!
Image: (c) Numéro Six Photography

Les Commandos Percu is an international street arts company that existed since 1994. How was the company founded?

The company was created by Raymond Gabriel based on the observation that the public was going to see concerts in halls less and less. He came up with the idea of going to meet the public where they are, i.e. in the street, and to surprise them with instruments that you won’t find anywhere else because we create them ourselves. This is where our formula “rhythm, movement, fire” comes from. Our aim is clear: to reach out to the audience, to abolish the stage, or rather to integrate the entire space as a space for creation.

 

Your percussions and your pyrotechnic know-how have travelled the world and you’re coming to Adelaide Fringe in Australia this February with your show Silence! Is this your South Australian première? I think you may have been to Perth Festival with your mobile intervention called “Radeaux humains” (Human Rails).

We have indeed performed in Australia before. The first time was in 2006, when we performed Le Concert du Feu “The Fire Concert” at the Sydney Festival, and then in 2013, when we performed Très Méchant(s) “Very Nasty” at the Perth International Arts Festival, with volunteers trained a few days before to participate in the show alongside the company’s musicians. But this will be the first time we have performed ‘Silence!’ in Australia.

 

How long have you been planning to bring this show to Australia?

We started negotiations in July 2021 to participate in the 2022 edition of the festival, which was postponed to 2023 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After this very long wait, we are now looking forward to being there and meeting the FRINGE Festival audience in Adelaide!

 

The show Silence! is not at all silent. Tell us a little about what audiences can expect from this show?

With the show Silence!, Les Commandos Percu invent a storm of sounds and of fire. Between two notes, between two drum beats, silence releases all its strength. What will happen? What will happen next? Was there a countdown, an explanation given for this darkened horizon? Someone has shouted: “Silence! No matter: time is now suspended, everything stands still. Then a dull roll rises from the depths until it becomes an immense crash, a rain of metal fills the whole space, lightning invades the sky. The murmur of the drums becomes a clamour pulsating with a beat that no one can resist…

Silence!
Image: Silence! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

Between the loud noises of the drums and the fireworks, there is silence. Is the show a sort of meditation?

The title of this show was inspired by a quote by Franck Zappa, which could almost be described as philosophical: “music is silence that is distorted”. It is on this subject that one could meditate at length…

 

According to the Adelaide Fringe website, the show goes for 4 hours. Is this true or will the show be repeated several times during the 4 hours?

The show lasts 45-50 minutes and there will only be one performance each night. We don’t have all the information yet, but I think there will be 2 other shows that will be presented between the time the doors open and the time of our show.

 

What was the inspiration for Silence!?

The idea of the show came from The idea for this show came from several questions: How to transform the energy of chaos into a vital impulse? How to create when everything collapses, when there is nothing left? How to react to constraint with ingenuity?

 

The challenge is not to make Les Commandos Percu the first post-apocalyptic percussion group, but to return to the fundamentals of the company: to observe and recycle the materials and sounds of the world to reinvent a living music, incarnate in a show, made of flesh and sweat.

 

What is your first love? Pyrotechnics or music?

The answer is obvious: music! Making our own instruments has “isolated” us in an imaginary culture, as if we came from a distant land, saving us from having to copy music and cultures that were not our own. Two sticks, a few “tricks” on which we can create sound colours, simple or incredibly complex things, to imagine the framework of a show, to find the pleasure in sharing, to make bodies move, to seek trance: the world of rhythm is immense.

 

The result is our own rhythms and sounds, a whole universe patiently assembled, an infinite number of combinations, pulsations, polyrhythms, but also a story to tell, an intention, a path strewn with pyrotechnic surprises: a real watchmaker’s job!

 

What amuses us most is extending the sounds to transform them into lights and sparks.

Silence!
Image: Silence ! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

 

What has been your journey so far?

The company has been in existence for almost 30 years, and we have created many shows that have taken us all over the world, to all continents.

 

Adelaide’s temperatures can rise into the 40s in the summer, how do you protect yourself from such temperatures when you are surrounded by fire? What are the challenges of putting on such a show in the summer in a country known for bush fires?

We are experiencing the same climatic phenomenon in Europe, where summers are getting hotter and hotter, and the risks are getting higher. But all of our team has a fireworks certificate, and fire safety measures are reinforced.

 

How many people are on stage?

There are only 5 people on stage, but the movements and the shifts may suggest that there are many more! This is also part of the surprise effect.

 

How have you adapted your shows to more environmentally aware audiences and ever-changing technology?

This show aims to draw attention to and make the audience think about environmental issues. It encourages the audience to question the future and to ask themselves: “How can we create when everything is falling apart? What will we do when there is nothing left?

 

Moreover, our shows are 6 to 7 times less polluting than traditional fireworks because we use less active material. We are also careful about recycling the waste that our shows generate and we leave the site as clean as before we arrived!

Image: Silence ! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

What is your creative process?

The creative process is quite long. It all starts with a desire, an intention, in other words, what message do we want to convey through the show. A long period of reflection and musical creation follows, then comes the stage direction and pyrotechnical writing phase. We also have the need to be constantly evolving, which means that the show ‘Silence’ that you see at Adelaide Fringe will not be exactly the same as the one you saw at the Sziget Festival for example. After each performance we spend a lot of time analysing what happened, the comments of the audience or the organisers. Our shows are never static, in the sense that we are always looking for the best possible performance.

 

How long does it take to create a show like Silence!?

The creation of Silence! required several months of work, between the musical composition, the pyrotechnical writing, directing and building décor.

 

Apart from people who don’t like loud noises, is Silence! for all audiences?

Absolutely, this show is for all audiences. Even people who don’t like noise can come to the show, placing themselves at the back of the crowd or wearing adapted hearing protection for example. Some will appreciate the music more, others the pyrotechnics, the sensations provided by the percussion and the fire, or again the staging, but in general feedback from audiences is unanimous in their experience of the show

Silence!
Image: (c) V.Balège

Why should people come see Silence! at Adelaide Fringe?

The energy of the perucssion combined with that of the fire is quite simply fascinating, as if we are touching something essential. Nature’s forces seem to want to express themselves through what we do, as If we were volcanologists holding the audience by the hand to look at the base of the crater. Higher, in the night, stars and coloured forms make us more so astronomers faced with starry canvases. The grinding of the drums, sweaty bodies in the smoke and ask form like a grand wild ritual.

 

Plus, our musical and pyrotechnical know-how is quite unique in the world, and feedback from audiences are our largest reward! People write to us often after our shows to thank us, it’s very powerful…

 

At a large festival in Europe, an audience member came up to us and said the most wonderful compliment: “I think you inspire people. You make them want to invent something, as if everyone had a seed to germinate, as if you were proof that it is possible!”

 

We really want to share an exceptional moment with the audience, a kind of jubilant wildness, elementary and primordial joy!

KEY INFO FOR SILENCE!

WHAT: Silence!
WHERE: 5.30pm Friday 17 February – Sunday 19 February
WHEN: Elder Park, Adelaide
HOW: Buy your tickets through this link: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/silence-af2023
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices (excluding booking fees) are as follows:
  • Full Price: $55
  • Concession: $45
  • Child: $35
  • Family: $160
  • Schools: $30
  • Companion Card: Free
For all shows with French and francophone links at the Adelaide Fringe, click here.
For all events with French and francophone links happening around Australia this month, check out the What’s on in January.

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