MARGAINE: She can be provocative. She can be sincere. She can be funny. She can be dark. She's everything. She's one thing and the opposite at the same time, all the time.
GIDDENS: From WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera, this is Aria Code. I'm Rhiannon Giddens.
MCCLARY: So we have someone who is very powerful within her own indigenous community, but who is both lusted after and despised.
GIDDENS: Every episode, we peek behind the curtain of a single aria so we can see what's going on behind the scenes. Today, it's maybe the most famous aria ever. The Habanera from Bizet's Carmen.
CISNEROS: Flamenco dancing is an emotional act because it's asking you as a dancer to access sadness, grief, happiness, joy, all maybe in a matter of five minutes.
GIDDENS: Carmen is one of the top three most-performed operas on the planet. But when it premiered in 1875, it was more of a scandal than a success. An opera in which the title character is a sensual, liberated woman who makes her own dang choices, thank you very much, was bad enough. But then the fact that she was, spoiler alert, it is opera, murdered on stage at the end… yeah, people in Paris weren't really cool with that at the time. But the music was just so good, and the character of Carmen was so complex, that audiences ultimately couldn't help but be seduced by it all.
Fast forward 150 years, and Carmen is still just as mesmerizing as ever. Today, we'll bask in the glory of this wonderful music, but also we'll ask a few crucial and often ignored questions about what – and whom – Carmen represents.
The opera is set in Seville. There's a group of soldiers who like to sit around and gawk at the women who work at a tobacco factory. And when Carmen steps outside for a break, and the men get all up in her business, she tells them, and the audience, exactly who she is.
In her show-stopping first aria, Carmen sings “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle” – “Love is a rebellious bird.” Leaning into the syncopated rhythm of the Habanera, she sings a song about freedom, and a love that can't be tamed.
Everyone around her is utterly captivated. Well, everyone except Don José. He's the only soldier who isn't hanging on her every word. This intrigues Carmen. And thus begins their tumultuous relationship.
Their passion leads Don José to turn his back on both the army and on the angelic woman he's supposed to marry, Micaela. He runs off with Carmen and her band of smugglers into the mountains. But when Micaela finds him and tells him that his mother is dying, Don José returns home to care for her. The next thing he knows, Carmen's shacked up with the bullfighter Escamillo, and in a fit of jealousy, he kills the woman he claims to love.
Carmen is a woman of Romani descent. You'll hear much more about what that means in a couple of minutes, but for now, I'll just say that the Romani people have historically and pejoratively been called gypsies. They've been subjected to racism, slavery, and genocide, and they've often been seen through the lens of cultural stereotypes.
The stereotypes surrounding Romani women in particular cannot be disentangled from Carmen's story, or her tragic fate.
Most artistic representations of the Romani people don't really delve much deeper than the stereotypes. But today, we're going to take a closer look at this culture, at this character, and at this music, with four great guests.
First, mezzo soprano Clémentine Margaine, who first sang in the children's chorus of this opera before eventually taking on the title role.
That's a very special role that I sing now for almost 10 years. It opened all the doors for me, all the theaters from Italy, Spain, Europe in general. And then at the Met… yeah, that's my lucky charm role.
Next, Susan McClary, a musicologist at Case Western Reserve University, and a pioneer in feminist music criticism. She's published 11 books, including the Cambridge Opera Handbook on Carmen.
GIDDENS: When she was writing in the early 90s, her feminist reading was way ahead of its time.
MCCLARY: There was a review that came out titled, Sexy, Classy, Racey. This was not intended to be a compliment. And at the end, the last sentence was, but if you want to read about class, race, and gender, this is your book. I thought, that's good enough for me.
GIDDENS: Next, Ioanida Costache, an ethnomusicologist of Romanian Roma descent. Her research at Stanford focuses on Romani artistic practices, especially music.
COSTACHE: My great-grandfather, who was a cimbalom player, he traveled to New York in 1939 for the World's Fair and he played for Teddy Roosevelt. So this is the story that I grew up hearing about my family and the way music was an important articulation of Romani identity.
GIDDENS: And finally, Rosa Cisneros. A professional dancer, flamenco historian, and a Romani scholar of Spanish Roma descent.
CISNEROS: My mother gave me dance. She was a dancer herself. In the Spanish Roma community, dance is central to a lot of what we do. It's part of celebrations, where family or community get together. So she passed on those traditions through dance.
GIDDENS: All right, let's make our way to sunny Seville. Here's the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen.
MARGAINE: My debut of the role was actually in Berlin.
Right after my studies, I made an audition for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the casting director heard me, and he asked me actually to sing all the arias. And then he said, “You could sing Carmen.” And I told him, “Of course I can sing Carmen.”
And then I called my manager at the time and I said, “Yeah, I got Carmen in Berlin.”
I really felt that I needed to sing this role.
MCCLARY: When Bizet wrote this opera in 1875. He was a rising star. He was commissioned by the opera Comique to write a piece. He contacted a couple of people who served as his librettists, and they decided that they would write an opera on Carmen, a very strange literary work that first appeared in 1845 by a writer named Prosper Mérimée.
COSTACHE: The character of Carmen in Mérimée's novella, she's characterized as an evil gypsy.
MCCLARY: Carmen is part of an indigenous population in Andalusia, in the south of Spain. She is part of a smuggler's band. She works in a cigar factory. She is of the very lowest working class.
MARGAINE: She's a free woman, dedicated to preserving her freedom in a world where men, especially, wants to take this freedom away from her.
COSTACHE: She is characterized as a fortune teller and this character of Carmen or Carmencita is associated with sorcery and magic. And this is related to the way that witchcraft played into the expulsion of Roma as they were considered a heretical sect.
CISNEROS: The Romani community comes from North India, the Rajasthan area. And with the Muslim expansion, the Romani Egyptian community was forced out, and that's when the migration started.
COSTACHE: Roma migrated through Persia in the early Middle Ages, and they settled in Byzantine territories, and then continued on from there. By the 13th century, Roma had arrived in the Balkans, and then in the early 15th century, they were living all over Europe.
CISNEROS: The community came to the UK and also continued on into the Americas and into the U.S.
COSTACHE: French sources refer to this group as Bohemians, because they had been assured safe passage by the King of Bohemia.
MCCLARY: At the time that Bizet's Carmen appeared, France is at the very peak of its colonialist campaign.
France, beginning with Napoleon, had taken over North Africa. It had extended into Subsaharan Africa and into Southeast Asia, into all parts of the globe. This was something that was very important to French self-identity and pride. But there was always a drawback and that was that some number of people who were involved in those occupying armies went native.
They were so enthralled by the ways of life that they encountered outside of France. They would not go back to France and not continue to press this argument of the French civilizing agenda.
What we have in this opera is a soldier who goes native, and we see he is seduced by the music, by the dance, by the women. So, this opera is absolutely in the center of some of the biggest political debates and problems that France faces at this time.
COSTACHE: My parents were communist refugees. They left Romania during the communist period, and they left largely because of the racism in Ceausescu's communist authoritarian regime.
When I was in college, I didn't necessarily feel super comfortable talking about the fact that I was Roma. I had a lot of internalized stigma.
The negative image of Romani people as criminals, as vagrants, who steal, these stereotypes were imported into an American kind of imaginary of the Roma, and I was not immune to that. You know, it has to do with inherited understanding of the need to hide.
Roma have always been hiding, that is a mode of survival in the context of different forms of persecution, like slavery and like genocide. And so that is kind of a knowledge that's passed down generationally, that this is something best to conceal.
CISNEROS: My mother is Spanish Roma, my father is Serbian, and they had me in Chicago, but my mother wanted me to travel. We often went back and forth to Spain, to the south of Spain. Her family is from the south, so Malaga, Sevilla were cities that had a lot of meaning for me during that younger part of my life.
And in Sevilla, there's a certain energy – the sounds of the street, the bells of the cathedral, there's the April Fair, the Feria de Abril. There are very specific times throughout the year that you know certain traditions really come to life and the city changes. And that was a way that I learned and embodied a lot of the Spanish traditions, but also the flamenco.
MCCLARY: Carmen is identified musically with Andalusia, and Bizet gives her a great deal of the music that would have been identified with gypsy performers in Parisian cabarets. These were something like speakeasies. There was a mixture of alcohol, sex, prostitution, drugs. These are sort of sordid night spots that these songs would have circulated in.
Bizet and his collaborators were great aficionados of these places. That is the only contact he ever had with music that he thought was associated with the Roma people. No research, other than what he heard in brothels. So, that's where most of Carmen's music comes from.
And it's very important that we recognize that her music comes from that milieu, and that it is performance art. She is a performer within the context of the opera.
MARGAINE: Carmen sings songs. It's in a way very seductive, you know. It's a way to seduce. Men and women and the world to get away with what he wants. These arias are songs and dances, and you have to fully embrace it to really understand the physicality of these arias.
MCCLARY: The overture sounds a great deal like what you would hear at a Spanish bull fight. It is celebratory, it is bright, it is rhythmic, it pulls us right into what we are supposed to understand as Spain.
CISNEROS: The bullfighting taorino world is very present and alive in Sevilla, in the south of Spain. And Sevilla is an important place for flamenco. It's only natural that those two inform one another. You might have teachers that might reference, “Oh, your hands are like the bull's horns.” And you might see some of that imagery used in flamenco. And also the animalistic kind of being alive and in the moment. It's an important part of the city and of the arts and culture that's coming out of that city.
MCCLARY: At the end of the overture, we hear what has usually been called the fate motive.
This very ominous, dark quality that comes out of the celebratory bullfighting music that we had heard previously.
The fate motive is going to pop up repeatedly. We are reminded of this sort of ominous cloud that casts a dark shadow over the whole opera.
COSTACHE: The fate motive features this chromaticism that was understood in western art music at the time to kind of index evil or proximity to the devil. And so this association with the diabolical, with the untoward, with magic, with evil, with darkness, it's present in Carmen. And this is cut from the same cloth of kind of other contemporaneous representations of Roma.
CISNEROS: I was taught that flamenco history starts with the Roma community. It was influenced by North Africans, by the Jewish, by Spanish folklore, and all of those elements are in there, but the pillar starts with the Roma community, and that gitano reality gave us the historical tension that you see in the music, in the dancing, and in the singing.
And Flamenco history is debated. There are people who question if the Roma actually went through North Africa and how do we know that? But at the core, flamenco comes from the Spanish Roma community.
COSTACHE: So Roma ended up being called Egyptian in many European contexts as they were thought to have come from Egypt. And this is the kind of etymological root of the word “gypsy.”
CISNEROS: “Gypsy” is a very loaded word. In Egypt, if you were darker and they said, “Oh, you're Egyptian.” And that evolved and that term was a negative way of looking at someone that was brown or traveling.
COSTACHE: And also the etymological root of words like “gitano.”
CISNEROS: Which is the equivalent to gypsy in Spanish.
COSTACHE: The more common European exonyms for Roma people, these include zigoinu, chingaro, and tzigan. These are etymologically rooted in the Greek word atzingano, which means untouchable.
CISNEROS: But the politically correct term is Roma. Rom in Sanskrit just means human.
MCCLARY: We are treated to a chorus by the occupying army. A Northern group has a military occupation of the South of Spain. And they sing about how really funny all these indigenous people are that they like to look at. So that's all we get, really, before we get to Carmen, who is going to upset the apple cart for everyone.
So, Carmen enters. The soldiers who have been loafing around ask her, will she give in to them today?
MARGAINE: “Carmen, répond-nous, répond-nous.” “What do you have to say, Carmen?” And she will say, “Quand je vous aimerai, ma foi, je ne sais pas, peut être demain, peut être jamais, mais pas aujourd'hui, c'est certain.”
I don't know when I will love you, but not today, no, definitely not today.
MCCLARY: Maybe tomorrow, but today… nah! The men who come to watch her expect to be sassed, and she delivers that before she settles into the Habanera, which is a much more extended presentation of that attitude, that you can love me, you can lust after me, but I'm going to decide what I'm going to do.
MARGAINE: But then, with a very sensual line, she will tell them, you know, how women work. How she works.
MCCLARY: And that song did not originate with Bizet. It was a song written by a Basque composer named Sebastián Iradier, who had gone to Cuba, was very taken with Afro Cuban music, and then brought some of that style back with him, and he wrote The song that becomes the Habanera. Bizet made a few very light touches, but this is basically the song that already would have been familiar to a great many Parisians, because it was already part of the standard repertory of the local cabarets.
The name Habanera, of course, means “from Havana.” So it announces right with its title that this is Afro-Cuban.
She presents these cabaret numbers, same with the Seguidilla, another really hypnotic dance pattern that she will dance with.
CISNEROS: The Habanera and the Seguidillas are part of the school of flamenco, but in very different ways. The Seguidilla is more traditional, more of that rooted flamenco side, and there's a different weight that the Seguidilla will have – very heavy, and there's a different energy that is required when you enter into the Seguiria rhythm.
And the Habanera is the more modern contemporary. flamenco that's traveled and has been globalized. Very light and flowery and very alive. And there's lots of musical elements to it, and it can be quite festive and fun. The habanera has a more Latin feel to it.
COSTACHE: So there are millions of Roma across Europe, and given their very long tenure in Europe over the course of this thousand year diaspora, you can imagine how heterogeneous these communities and their cultures really are. Roma music, too, as a very broad genre, is rather heterogeneous. It's a kind of amalgam of different styles and genres and performance practices that fall under the category of Romani music.
So you have things like flamenco in Spain and jazz minouche in France and musica luteresca in Romania. So Roma draw on and contribute to local musical cultures and have inspired many Western classical composers from Brahms to Liszt to Bizet. And they have also been influenced by and contribute to vernacular cultures in Eastern and Central Europe as well.
CISNEROS: Flamenco rhythms – you could count them in 12 counts. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. But the way I was taught was that there were sounds, there were rhythms. And those rhythms reflect the Indian influence of Bharatanatyam, of Kathak, they're very complex and you have to know those rhythms and how to count and how to accent certain rhythms in order to dance, sing, play.
Your feet are tapping on the floor, your hips are moving, there's what we call a swing, or soniquete, there's always a swing to it, and other art forms like blues and jazz have that.
MCCLARY: The introduction to the Habanera already brings to our ears the Afro Cuban rhythms. Bum, ba dum, bum, bum, already engages the lower body. with hip swinging in ways that European music absolutely did not at the time.
MARGAINE: This first phrase really takes the rhythm of the speaking voice, but in a very sensual way. “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle.”
It's like improvising. And what she's saying – that you cannot predict love. Love is like a bird.
MCCLARY: A rebellious bird that cannot be captured.
MARGAINE: If you wait for it, it's not coming. If you don't wait for it, it's coming. And this is exactly what Bizet did with the line, ti da, ti da, ti da, ti da.
CISNEROS: As a dancer, I was taught that your hands are like birds. Son como las palomas. They're birds and they're flying. But they never fly away because they're controlled by the elbows. And the elbows and those angles are extremely important. And you're shading, you're constantly shading with your hands.
MCCLARY: We hear the image of the bird in the ways that she is wielding those chromatic pitches. As she's moving down through the scale. We don't know how to catch what she's doing. She's constantly just out of reach, never really landing anywhere.
When she gets to the bottom of the scale, she simply goes back to the beginning and we hear this again.
So Bizet is weaving this sense of this bird that cannot be nailed down.
COSTACHE: There's absolutely a stereotype that Roma are this kind of wandering group of travelers.
In the Habsburg Empire, policies mimicked a lot of kind of colonial practices in their policies of forced sedentarization, denaturalization, deportation, and internment of Roma.
Beginning around 1888, strict migration policies were put in place across Europe targeting Roma. And so Roma were caught in this kind of liminal state in which they would be denaturalized, deported, and unable to settle elsewhere. And this kind of limbo of statelessness was forced upon the Roma.
Thus, these myths of the wandering gypsy, which fueled the kind of anti-gypsyism underpinning racist policies, were a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in that they forced the Roma to be nomadic in order to avoid further persecution.
MCCLARY: In her second verse, Carmen leaves behind the image of the rebellious bird and moves to that of a gypsy child. So now we go closer to the reality of the situation. She is metaphorically a bird, but she is quite literally a gypsy child who knows no law.
COSTACHE: By the 18th century, many of the stigmas attached to Roma were already pervasive in literary, musical, and visual arts. So things like criminality and magic, witchcraft, primitivism, savageness, irrationality, animality, and sexuality, which is very apparent in Carmen. Roma and other racialized minorities in Europe at the time of the Enlightenment stood in opposition to the kind of greatest Enlightenment ideal that is reason and civilization.
So the Enlightenment had an agenda to elevate Europe as a pinnacle of modern civilization and to do that it needed a negative referent, an other within, and Roma filled this kind of savage slot. They were cast as primitive and unmodern and uncivilized, as existing outside of the social order.
And this becomes both the logic that underpins their persecution and genocide in the 20th century, as well as their romanticization as kind of noble savages who embody freedom.
MCCLARY: The tension between Don José and Carmen very much hinge on issues of racial difference. Don José is identified with the North, with whiteness, with Christianity, with civilization. Carmen is not recognized as part of Western European civilization. It's a very different culture that she brings with her.
CISNEROS: Flamenco comes from the barrio, from the community, from the Spanish Roma reality and that Spanish Roma community was outside of society and the harsh realities, the harsh life that Spanish Roma were experiencing was documented, or is documented in flamenco and we see that through the different styles.
Each style will have its own rules, its own musical rules, and those reflect the larger Roma history that has been passed on and also, let's say, maintained and is now living and breathing in Spain.
MCCLARY: Carmen delivers a warning, If you love me, beware.
MARGAINE: And then the chorus responds with “Prengarde a toi,” like very threatening.
MCCLARY: But she is singing about free love and celebrating free love. It's also been taken more recently as women have been interpreting this opera as a kind of feminist statement that you can't own me. She is not containable. This, of course, is going to forecast the relationship between Don José and Carmen.
Don José is sitting off to the side repairing part of his gun and seems to be oblivious. So she has to go over and actually get his attention. He's the only one in the room who seems not to care. And she can't bear that. She wants to make sure she has everyone's attention.
MARGAINE: It's really an aria where you have to swing with it. You know, there's a lot of freedom, but it's a dance with the chorus, with the orchestra, with the conductor, and with the audience. It's a 3D role. You can never forget one part of the stage, so you have to create all these connections with all the singers, the chorus, the actors, and the audience.
MCCLARY: It all takes place over what we call a pedal point, as though the organist just puts a foot down on the pitch D and never takes that foot off. We hear that D all the way through the entire piece.
We call harmonic changes progressions. They go somewhere. They build tension. They resolve. So the harmonic language of Europeans at the time was always based on the sense of, uh, this happens and then this happens and then there's a crisis and then finally we have a resolution.
None of that exists in this and lots of other pieces that mean to invoke the Orient.
MARGAINE: It sounds like popular music, but it's very scientific, like it's, it's genius music. “Et si je t'aime…” like, suspensions. And then finish the phrase.
You know, it's always tricky to give adjectives to Carmen because she's one thing and the opposite all the time. And that's what's very interesting to explore. She can be provocative, she can be sincere, she can be funny, she can be dramatic, she can be dark. She's everything. She's one thing and the opposite at the same time all the time.
CISNEROS: If you look at a flamenco circle, there's the musicians, there's the singer, there might be a dancer who comes out into the circle, and then you have someone holding the rhythm, the compas, that's clapping.
Each individual plays an important role in sharing those rhythms, in accenting those rhythms. And also in holding the tradition.
Flamenco is not very old. It's 200 years old, let's say. But it's also a living, breathing art form. And those rhythms are changing, are evolving. People are doing new things. But there is a sense that you must understand those traditions, that basic compás, that basic rhythm, in order to break it, in order to change it.
MCCLARY: Carmen sings through what we would call a tetrachord, the interval of a fourth.
She fills that fourth in with these slippery chromatic pitches, dwelling on them, really nudging into their dissonant qualities. So she calls attention to this sort of slithery, melodic line. She is seductive. She is indirect. She is weaving her web, moving down chromatically through the scale, constantly playing with these pitches as part of her physicality.
MARGAINE: These chromatic notes gives a certain sensuality because you can almost slip into this note, do like real legato, amplifying all this, you know, this aspect, sensual aspect.
MCCLARY: She is a powerful, seductive woman. She inspires lust in men around her, and that lust sets her up as a femme fatale, as someone who is really an expert at seduction, at catching you in the web.
COSTACHE: Carmen is portrayed as brazen. Her music, you know, oozes sex appeal. She teases, she's hard to pin down, just like her melody is. That definitely plays into the stereotype of Romani women as a loose woman or a kind of hyper-sexualized woman.
I think the hyper-sexualization of the Romani body is actually about a kind of fear of the Romani womb. You have this racialized other who represents everything that is antithetical to what is good, modern, civilized, and clean. This anxiety about the overproduction of Romani people in Europe is a kind of fear of threatening the homogeneity of the nation.
And even present day in Romania just a few years ago, for example, there were politicians who talked about supporting the sterilization of Romani women.And this is a practice that has been documented. In the Czech Republic, it happened during Nazi persecution of Roma. Sterilization is kind of the coalescence of this anxiety about Romani women in European territory, where it would disrupt the kind of uniform center of European whiteness.
MCCLARY: This isn't the kind of aria, as in bel canto, where you want to maintain uniformity of tone all the way through what you sing. This is the kind of music where you really want to play on timbral difference. And that's what many uh singers will do – they will use different timbres to enhance that notion that this is not a voice that can be captured. This voice is going to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
MARGAINE: Technically speaking, it's not very difficult. It doesn't need, like, a very major voice. It needs a voice with character, with color. All the arias – they don't have big lyrical lines. What's difficult is that of course you have to give a big variety of colors, but you shouldn't plan them. What I try with Carmen is to be as spontaneous as possible to forget that I'm singing, and that's when you become the closer to theater, you know, to really interacting with people.
And especially in the Habanera, I change the staging every night, which makes all the directors crazy. Sometimes I will go on the right side of the stage. Sometimes I go to this other man, or sometimes I go to this kid. And it keeps me alive. It keeps me inventive. It keeps everybody on stage also very alert and, you know, surprised and, “Oh, what is she going to do tonight,” you know? And all the colors of the character comes from that.
CISNEROS: Flamenco dancing is an emotional act because it's asking you as a dancer to access lots of different sides of yourself. That's quite powerful. Flamenco allows you to fully experience that emotion. Sadness, grief, happiness, joy, tension, all maybe in a matter of five minutes.
When you're on stage, it's the most vulnerable time because you're at your purest, you're who you are in that moment in time. So you have to access certain parts of your emotional landscape but also your physical landscape. And the marriage of those two things can bring a really beautiful moment that in flamenco we would call duende.
That duende, that magic that is just, you can't describe what you're seeing. That is part of the flamenco spirit.
MARGAINE: And of course she will end. The two verses with this high note, where she will show how powerful she is with all the chorus and as, you know, she's defying the people who wants to love her. And actually, Don José, who is right in the corner, let's not forget that he's listening.
MCCLARY: It used to be thought that this was an opera about this poor, innocent young man who is ensnared by this evil gypsy and is led to his own destruction. And she is just evil, evil, evil.
In my book, I try to deal with the opera at least as much from Carmen's point of view. She is constantly taking control over her own future, her own agency. But it is her agency, her sense of always speaking back, always fighting back, always asserting her own self, no matter what, that finally gets her killed.
MARGAINE: Every night on stage when I sing Carmen, I try to be the most sincere and spontaneous as I can be. And I sang it so much, but I never got bored of it. Never. Because it's genius, genius music. And also because I tried always to relate it to my personal life, to where I was as a woman. When I started to sing Carmen, I was fresh coming out of my studies and flirting around. And then I met someone, and then I became a mother. So the more and more I sing the role, the more depth I feel in this role.
COSTACHE: In some ways, me coming to terms with my identity was also just about falling in love with Carmen. For me this opera, and other sort of cultural artifacts like it, are really important conduits for educating people about Romani history, about a history that's so untold and so widely unknown, through these keystone, longstanding, cultural representations that, problematic as they may be, exist and offer us an opportunity to have conversations about who Roma are and why they matter, why they matter to Europe. And that's important to me as a Roma person.
CISNEROS: The Roma community is still seen as a problem to society, seen to be outside of the mainstream world, that they don't want to integrate, that they want to just do their own thing somewhere over there, and that continues that negative cycle of insider/outsider, not understanding the rules of society and therefore seen as less than and treated as less than.
And that reality is alive. We've carried that since, you know, we were kicked out of India. That's changing, and arts and culture play a major role in changing that narrative. We take a lot of pride in our arts and culture and our musical traditions. And so, for the Spanish Roma, flamenco became a bridge for each community, Roma and non Roma, to understand one another and to learn about each other.
MCCLARY: We have not resolved any of the problems that Carmen presents. We haven't resolved the racial entanglements that are brought to the stage. We haven't resolved the problem of imperialism and colonialism. Those continue to raise havoc around the globe.
This is an opera that whether it meant to or not spoke to some of the burning issues that were only beginning to emerge at that moment in France, but that have become increasingly unsolvable. And as long as we don't know how to solve those problems, Carmen will bring us into that arena, put us in that bull ring, and make us contend with them.
GIDDENS: Mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine, musicologist and writer Susan McClary, ethnomusicologist Ioanida Costache, and flamenco historian Rosa Cisneros decoding the Habanera from Biset’s Carmen. Clémentine will be back to sing it for you after the break.
When Carmen steps outside the tobacco factory for her break, the soldiers can't keep their eyes off of. She's gorgeous, magnetic, and a hundred percent her own woman. Here's Clémentine Maran on stage at the Metropolitan Opera singing “L’mour est un roiseau rebelle,” the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.
That was Clémentine Margaine, commanding the stage and stealing all of our hearts with Bizet’s famous Habanera from Carmen.
Next time, another tragic love story. In fact, it's the tragic love story of all time.
DAMRAU: It was so overwhelming, this pure love and this strength Juliet has to stand up, to find solutions. Yeah, going to take this poison to live her love and her dreams.
GIDDENS: “Amour, ranime mon courage,” known as the Poison Aria from Romeo et Juliet by Charles Gounod.
Aria Code is a co production of WQXR and the Metropolitan Opera. The show is produced, edited, and scored by Merrin Lazyan. Mixing and sound design by Matt Boynton from Ultraviolet Audio, and original music by Hannis Brown.
I'd like to give a huge thanks for help recording this episode to the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, where I'm currently an artist in residence.
I'm Rhiannon Giddens. See you next time!
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.