We are somehow used to the trivialization of art by modern (and not so modern) knights of the moral. We are, perhaps, a little less used to the increasing easiness with which these bans are accepted or masterpieces are twisted or an artist’s works are burnt in a medieval attempt of purification. In Spacey’s case, the whole thing is even more ironic: Americans demand an incredibly high standard of ethics from their fictional president while they are much looser towards the real one.
In Carmen’s case, things are a tad more complicated, given the fact that we’re not dealing with one individual but with a well-established piece of art. Certainly, there is nothing wrong in trying to make “actual” an opera that was written more than 100 years ago, in order to make it better resonate with the time we live in. It is, after all, what theater is about: re-interpretation, new perspectives, challenges.
The balance between the original author intentions and the imposed modern solutions is, however, a different matter. I have the very strong feeling that more often than not, some “solutions” are adopted almost exclusively to make people talk about a production. And there it is: Carmen is not Carmen anymore, but the Carmen of Cristiano Chiarot (intendant at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino) who decided along with the director and the conductor that the original story wasn’t good enough anymore and therefore needed to be rewritten.
In Mr. Chiarot’s words: “At a time when our society is having to confront the murder of women, how can we dare to applaud the killing of a woman?“.
I see. By the same token, I suppose he’ll change the finale of Pagliacci as well. I do believe that with this statement Mr. Chiarot is confusing the reality of a theater with the reality of a stadium: we are not applauding a murder, same way as we are not taking Don Giovanni as a role model. We are applauding a masterpiece that tells us a story: whether we like how it ends has nothing to do with it. Carmen is a work of art that doesn’t need to be changed, it already proved it can survive time quite easily without any extra help.
The altered finale is everything but brilliant or useful and it most certainly does not give a new perspective of the opera or underlines some of its subtleties; it’s simply the old trick of drawing a mustache on the Gioconda: it doesn’t better the original, but it gets people to talk.
The revisitation of Carmen falls perfectly in our time when the politically correct must reign over everything and everyone. Art, according to the new inquisitors, must be ethical and must portray its stories in line with the general sense of morality that permeates society. It’s a concept that is, in fact, hundreds of years old and that draws away from the real essence of art itself.
Masterpieces are such because, no matter what, they never get old, not because we adapt them to suit our needs.
The querelle is as old as it gets: should we not play Wagner anymore? Or maybe we should stop playing La Traviata because it tells the story of a prostitute (and Verdi was a renown tombeur de femmes); what about Cosí fan tutte? or the Rake’s progress? Should we go back to draw leaves on the intimate parts of great frescoes? Should we stop having exhibitions of Caravaggio’s paintings because he killed people? Or stop reading Nietzsche because he was in love with his sister? Or seriously consider signing the petition against Balthus’ work?
Going down this road is as sick as it is insane: in the end, this is not even a matter of pushing for some sort of ethical art (whatever that means) but for a moral control of the role of art and culture in a society. We’ve been down that road before. It led to people burning books.
Quite a disturbing thought.