Carmen 004 © Erik Berg


With the central protagonist of his novella Carmen, Prosper Mérimée created a character that has lost none of its topicality and fascination to this day. Carmen is presented as a wilful and sensual temptress with an unbroken desire for freedom. Again and again, her story poses the fundamental question of what love means to an individual, how it should occur in everyday life and what the other, the lover, should be like. The configuration of the relationship between Carmen and Don José is the story of two people whose concepts are irreconcilable: "Love is a bird that nothing can tame," sings Carmen, putting the essential problem in a nutshell. The extreme emotions, the conflicts between the lovers and adversaries, make this story predestined for an absorbing, tension-laden dance adaptation: scarcely any other opera has been adapted as a ballet as often as Carmen. In a guest appearance at the Theater an der Wien, the Norwegian National Ballet presents one of the most recent of these adaptations. The choreography, which was rapturously received at the premiere, was created by Liam Scarlett, one of the London Royal Ballet's most high-profile young choreographers.


Carmen works in a cigar factory. She quarrels with the other workers and is arrested. Sergeant José guards her. However, she manages to persuade him to let her go by promising him a rendezvous. He forgets all about his virtuous fiancée Michaëla and goes to meet Carmen in a seedy inn. There he misses the last post, gets caught up in shady dealings and ends up having no choice but to join the gang of smugglers of which Carmen is also a member. But Carmen soon tires of her new boyfriend. His constant jealousy irritates her, and the successful torero Escamillo has now caught her eye and seems a much more attractive proposition. Michaëla goes to see Don José and tells him that his mother is dying. Reluctantly Don José follows Michaëla, knowing that Carmen will turn to Escamillo as soon as he is gone. Some time later, Don José comes to Sevilla because he has heard that Carmen is now living there with Escamillo. When he finds them and demands an explanation, Carmen refuses to go back to him, making it clear that her liberty and her love of Escamillo are what matter most to her. Don José stabs her while Escamillo is killing a bull in the arena.