Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carmen: great music, lousy geography

My Pedant self can't believe nobody else appears to have noticed this somewhere on the Web, but... I'm just back from an excellent Carmen at West Bay Opera, but, throughout it (except when Bizet's wondrous music, so well played and sung, just swept my pedantry away for a while!), I couldn't help being troubled by its plot's obvious imprecision regarding the geography of Spain.

Consider: Carmen takes place in Sevilla -- Micaela is coming to meet Don José there (presumably on foot? but, even if she was riding, or on a carriage, that wouldn't change much...) from their native village in Navarra, and claim it's a day trip ("demain je verrai votre mère", "I'll see your mother tomorrow", she tells José -- and said mother is back in said village). Sevilla is in Southern Spain, Navarra in the far North thereof... 912 km by road between Sevilla and Pamplona (the latter being the largest town in Navarra), according to Google Maps.

I also suspect that the mountains on which the smugglers are in the 3rd act are meant to be the Pyrenees, not the Sierra Morena which is reasonably close to Sevilla, simply because it's not clear where you'd be smuggling to and from over the Sierra Morena -- Andalucía to Extremadura? I doubt there were customs officers patroling that administrative border, given that both regions were and are part of the same country, Spain; however, I am not certain about that... it would just go well with the misconception that Sevilla and Navarra are very close to each other (Navarra, of course, is in fact on the Pyrenees).

So I'm disappointed with Meilhac and Halévy, the librettistas -- even though I absolutely adore them for their authorship of so many of Offenbach's best librettos. I revere Halévy and Meilhac when they play fast and loose with geography for good reason -- as in Offenbach's "Les Brigands", ``at the border between Spain and Italy'' (;-)... but in Carmen, they seem to have simply been sloppy and careless -- really unforgivable for two stalwart of the Académie Française!!!


Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

At least there *are* mountains in Spain - unlike the end of Turandot in the "deserts of Louisiana"... ;-)

Anna Martelli Ravenscroft said...

Oops - make that "Manon Lescaut".