|Set designer Brian Thomson and director Gale Edwards with a set model of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour 2013 - Carmen|
|Poster image for Carmen|
At the opening night of Francesca Zambello’s production of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) La Traviata earlier this year, fellow director Gale Edwards felt intensely proud. “It was a fabulous production and I was absolutely thrilled that I’d have the opportunity to do HOSH the following year,” says the woman responsible for 2013 HOSH Carmen, launched in Sydney late last month.
Staging a popular masterpiece such as Carmen is daunting. As Edwards says: “The challenge is to avoid regurgitating what’s been done before.” Every Carmen director tries to interpret the work in a unique way, and Edwards is no exception, yet she steers clear of imposing what she refers to as ‘gimmicks’. “I work from the inside out,” she says.
Telling the Carmen story from the inside out meant studying the libretto and the music, watching videos of previous productions (“good and bad, and you learn more from the bad”), looking at relevant photographs and art, reading (“I did a lot of research on Franco’s Spain), and watching films, especially Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. “It’s hard to pinpoint the creative process, but eventually, unconsciously, the elements begin to come together and images begin to form in my mind. And suddenly there’s a moment when I think, This is the right way to do it.”
Convinced that she did not want to do “the little coins on the scarves; the little corsets with the puffed sleeves; all those images associated with Carmen that are now very dated”, Edwards nevertheless did not want to destroy the opera’s essential elements. “It’s a piece set in Spain and it’s partly about poverty and elevation from poverty. It’s also about a woman who is an explosive, dynamic force in a stagnant world, and who is destroyed for that.”
For Edwards, the period most suited to telling that story turned out to be Franco’s Spain. “I thought if we set our Carmen in Spain at around 1930-50, it would free us from the corsets and the coins. You could still have the Flamenco dancing and the café scene and the cigarette girls, but you’d be able to take a fresh look at the piece.”
|Director Gale Edwards|
Costume design is necessarily influenced by the fact that HOSH is an open-air production. Julie Lynch points out that “60 people on stage, all dressed in a different colour, would look hideous, which is why you have to think in terms of blocks of colour”. The Carmen costumes are thus designed to create mass imagery and to counter the distractions inherent in an outdoor production: city lights and stars twinkling in the sky, boats sailing past and the opera house beckoning on the horizon.
HOSH is a gigantic challenge for any director, but like so many of her colleagues, Edwards thrives on the obstacles presented by staging opera. “This is an art form that deals with huge themes like ambition, love, betrayal – these great, passionate, fearless stories insist that you be fearless too; you’re not directing a little drawing room piece with two sofas and a cocktail cabinet where you mix the drinks.”
Tickets to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - Carmen are now available. Visit operaonsydneyharbour.com.au to book online. Watch the clip below to see what Gale Edwards says about this production.