Carmen

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, January 16.

One thing I’ve come to love about opera is that the female characters generally are players in the action, to a far greater extent than many contemporary works in different media. I suspect the desire to show off the female voice superseded the inclination to shuffle all the women to the background as passive wives and mothers and girlfriends. True, the storylines opera provides those female characters are often ludicrous, even offensive, but at least they are storylines. I’ll take them.

Consider Carmen, Bizet’s masterpiece, first performed in 1875. The gypsy antihero not only drives the action; she’s the titular character—something of a sociopath and a parodic warning against the dangers of unbridled female sexuality but nonetheless an infinitely stronger, more compelling character than José, her pathetic boy toy, or Micaëla, the virgin to her whore. One can’t help but relish Carmen’s vivacity even as one recoils from her cruelty, which is, after all, returned in equal measure by many of those around her.

It’s a great role—iconic for a reason—and in the Met’s new production, Elina Garanca brings Carmen to fresh life. She’s impetuous but self-possessed, seductive but guarded, tenacious but fatalistic, and director Richard Eyre showcases her beautifully in his wonderfully dramatic, gritty-edged new production. Sweeping away caricature, Garanca and Eyre have created a fierce, raw Carmen to remember.