Review: Yo, Carmen, Arts Centre Melbourne

Raphael Solarsh

Bizet’s opera reimagined with a contemporary flamenco flare and an emphatic declaration of freedom.
Review: Yo, Carmen, Arts Centre Melbourne

Yo, Carmen at Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by David Ruano.

Carmen is different from most female characters in opera. She has agency, guile and a fearlessness that few others are given by their almost exclusively male authors. She is no-one’s wife, no-one’s property or prize to be won and she is flawed. Her flaws are not tropes of jealousy or naivety but caprice and a dose of stubbornness that acts as highly combustible accelerant. She is driven but it isn’t clear by what. It is this voracious appetite for freedom that Maria Pages channels in this modern flamenco evocation of Bizet’s classic.

Carmen has been given the flamenco treatment before, Antonio Gades and Carlos Saura for the Teatro Real de Madrid, for example. But that was an unambiguous expression of the opera through flamenco form and music, though largely loyal to the libretto. Yo, Carmen attempts a more abstract expression that is happy to make more significant departures from the original arrangement. When this avant-garde take works it is pulsatingly brilliant but when it doesn’t it leaves Yo, Carmen hanging somewhere in between a flamenco opera and contemporary flamenco staking its own position.

Yo, Carmen begins with that most famous of overtures. It’s unavoidable in anything linked with Carmen and yet the front-lit dance of hand fans, while seemingly a link to a similarly associated accessory, felt a strange beginning. It was soon followed by some stirring spoken poetry in several languages before a return to dance. The music in this early stage was also a curious mix of classic and flamenco, whose links were not always clear. Each of the individual movements or scenes in this early phase were beautiful in themselves but were difficult to follow. Were they attempting an abstract telling of Carmen or embarking on a journey of their own?

It was when Maria Pages took the stage and began her thrilling and raw manifesto that Yo, Carmen spectacularly leapt to life. Even though there are scenes easily recognisable from Carmen after this moment, the entire production seemed to move into a place of its own. It stepped away from the ambiguous middle ground and took a hold of the agency and power of its eponymous character. Pages performances becomes indefatigable, unstoppable and builds to thrilling conclusion.

In this latter stage, Yo, Carmen harnesses a new spirit of feminine emancipation and casts off any narrative or emotive constraints of the past. It was in this space that it excels, it’s only fault, that it took a little long to get there.

Rating: 3 ½ stars ★★★☆
Yo, Carmen

María Pagés Compañía
Arts Centre Melbourne and Arts Projects Australia present
Director - Choreographer - Dancer:  Ms María Pages 
Director - Playwright: Mr El Arbi El Harti 
Dancers: Ms. Marta Galvez Lastre, Ms. Julia Gimeno Asins, Ms. Nuria Martinez Dominguez, Ms. Eva Varela Rubio, Ms. Chantal Soler Payano, Ms. Tatiana Cuevas Calzado, Ms. Natalia Gonzalez Alcala
Singers: Ms. Ana María Ramon Munoz, Ms. Sara Garcia Romero,
Musicians: Mr. Rubén Diaz Levaniegos, Mr. Isaac Munoz Casado (Guitar), Mr. David Moniz Ordonez (Violin), Mr. Sergio Fernando Menem (Cello), Mr. José María Uriarte Serrano (Percussion)   

11-12 March 2019
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne


About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at and tweets @RS_IndiLit.