Arts & Events

Clarification: On Nudity in SF Opera’s CARMEN

James Roy MacBean
Friday June 10, 2016 - 12:11:00 PM

In my review last week of SF Opera’s Carmen, I wrote that “there was no nudity I detected on opening night.” This was inaccurate, though true in a larger sense. Nudity did occur, but it was so extraneous to the ongoing story-line that it seemed to occur outside the opera as a gratuitous ploy of sheer sensationalism. On a bare, darkly lit stage, during the instrumental prelude to Act II, a nude man strode forward, paused, stared out at the audience, then ran off into the wings. “What in the world was that about?” I thought at the time, and promptly dismissed it as eminently forgettable. Indeed, it was so forgettable that when I sat down to write my review, I totally forgot it. Which was probably the best thing to do in regard to this off-the-wall, utterly meaningless sensationalism.  

On the other hand, regarding the various simulated sex acts in director Calixto Bieito’s Carmen, one could argue that they were not, like the male nudity cited above, extraneous to the story Bieito wanted to stage. The point he was making, I’m sure, was an anti-military, anti-Franco, point that when you plop down a great number of randy soldiers amidst a civilian population, quite a few of the local girls are likely to become whores or sluts, ready to take on all comers, singly or in gangs. (Many years ago I recall reading in the East Bay Express a lurid eye-witness account of the sexual cavorting of American servicemen and the often under-aged bar girls in the sleazy sex parlors surrounding the huge American Naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines.) If in Bietio’s Carmen it’s not only Carmen herself who uses her sexuality to get what she wants, but also her friends Frasquita and Mercédès, the cigarette factory girls and, of course, the soldiers of Spain’s Guardia Civil, this can be seen as a major critique of the militarization of Spain under Franco. There’s even a savage irony in Mercédès spread-eagling herself on the boot of a Mercedes, wearing only the shortest of short-shorts and what looks like a sports bra. In this Mercédès-on-Mercedes incident, she is quickly mounted by a fully clothed soldier who humps away at her for a few seconds. There are other, quite graphic, simulated sex-acts of various sorts, even a suggestion of preparations for a gang-bang of one local woman who is tossed in the air by a group of men as they run off-stage with her. For her part, she, as well as the woman who is hoisted up the flagpole, seem to be enjoying all the male attention, which just intensifies the utterly depraved social situation Bietio wants to critique. If only, however, Bietio and his revival director Joan Anton Rechi had done a better job of clarifying the story-line they wanted to tell in this staging of Carmen.