Carmen is very much Medusa. Photo credit: Yossi Zwecker
An Italian opera company is said to be producing a version of Carmen in which Carmen is not stabbed to death by Don José. In fact she lives at the end of this production. In addition to living she shoots Don José dead. The company claims this change addresses the problem of violence against women.
In other news, Gilda will now kill the Duke in Rigoletto, Nedda will kill Canio in Pagliacci, Butterfly will cut Pinkerton’s throat in Madama Butterfly, Desdemona will poison Otello in Otello, and so on and so forth.
Carmen: final scene (Elina Garanca, Roberto Alagna)
The point of all these feminine deaths, is to demonstrate the misguided masculine destroying the redemptive or innocent feminine. We are supposed to have our emotions moved in such a way that we begin to enact changes in the way we interact with each other.
Having Carmen shoot José removes the whole point of the opera. Here is a woman struggling to be free who is then destroyed by the worst elements of a tyrannical patriarchy embodied in Don José. If Carmen suddenly shoots Don José, that falls under an aggressive and patriarchal action.
José is a deserter of his family and his military unit. He is a coward who literally attempts to stab Escamillo in the back, and he ends up murdering Carmen. It’s clear that José represents all that is wrong with the masculine energy.
I think this Italian production is childish. It does nothing to promote reconciliation or even an admission of guilt by José. They are taking a feminine archetype — Carmen is very much Medusa — and having her perform an act of violence so we can have a vengeance fantasy.
There is a gross imbalance between masculine and feminine qualities in our culture both past and present. The imbalance is so extreme that we even find it in our most recent feminine hero.
Do we admire Wonder Woman for her womanhood or for her ability to fight violence with violence? Her superhero powers are expressed in masculine terms — except for the lasso of truth. (We could use more lasso of truth.)
When women become powerful as men are powerful it only reinforces and legitimizes the problem of masculine violence. It reduces to the absurd position that if only women were more violent then everything would be better.
The imbalance is on the masculine side which means we need to reduce the negative masculine qualities of violence and aggression with feminine qualities of healing and nurture. We don’t need women coming over to the violent aggressive side, we need men to move toward healing and nurture.
Medusa turns heroes to stone with a glance. That is a feminine expression of power. It’s a negative expression in the same way that the tyrannical patriarch is negative. Gaia, the earth mother, is a positive expression of the feminine power to provide sustenance, renewal, rebirth, spring, etc. The benevolent king would be the masculine equivalent.
In the opera Carmen we have two negative archetypes in Carmen and José, but they are clearly feminine and masculine, and the masculine destroys the feminine yet again. Clearly one of the ideas we can take from Carmen is “Don’t be this guy.”
I think ending the show with a living, breathing Carmen who has turned José to stone with her steady gaze — forcing him to admit his cowardice and leaving him a shattered vessel — that would be quite a satisfactory conclusion.
However, there’s nothing wrong with the way Bizet wrote it.