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Carmen - news about our film

Carmen, Carmen, Carmen..... so breathes our entranced journalist blogger at the opening of Bergen National Opera´s new film Carmen: Obsession in Isolation.

We´re drawn in at once, swept off to far places as journalist Mina begins her compulsive journey to discover what happened after Carmen´s dramatic killing.

Only this time, she was murdered in Oslo. Don José is Joseph, a British mercenary soldier, Escamilio is Eskil Murov, a Norwegian tech millionaire, and Carmen? – five years after her death, she swirls throughout the film in a flounce and dazzle of red dresses, in a glimpse of beguiling underwear and dark, dark eyes. The big arias are there, fabulously sung, the chorus is discreet and touching in their adoration of their heroine, and the orchestra sound lush.

But – a big but – we´ve been in lockdown. It´s partly the point of the film. Mina, our journalist, is locked down in her Frogner apartment, searching online for Joseph, rumoured to be in hiding in South America, but maybe still in Norway. Escamillo – Eskil - since Carmen´s death, has disappeared to mourn on his private island in the Fjords. Carmen is but a heartbreaking memory to her thousands of fans.

The making of a film, therefore is hardly simple. BNO is able, with restrictions, to film in Norway. Our tenor - British emerging star Freddie De Tommaso – is in lockdown at his parents´ house south of London. Georgian Ketevan Kemoklidze, our Carmen is alive and well and living with huge success but no ability to travel, in Barcelona. Eskil Murov – Ukrainian baritone Andrei Kymach, Cardiff Competition 2019-winner - is far from fighting bulls in Andalucia, and is at home in Kherson, two hundred miles north of Odessa. Beate Mordal, BNO´s terrific current young artist in residence, acting and singing as Mina, is reasonably mobile in Oslo. And the creative crew? Film director Anders Lindstad is also in Oslo, music director Stevie Higgins is in Kent, and librettist John Ramster is in London. As my smallest granddaughter would say, so far so good.

BNO had originally planned a full production of Carmen for Grieghallen´s main stage. The virus began to creep and then to roar. Plans became meaningless, and performance swerved from physical presence to digital alternatives. Could we, an opera company with little experience of full-scale film-making, then rethink Carmen? Could we keep the wonderful principal singers whom we had invited – and would they buy into the fantastical idea of recording and filming wherever they were in the world, never meeting, but still communicating extreme onscreen passion? Enter the fearless Lindstad, Higgins and Ramster team and ideas which seemed to surf on a huge raft across a turbulent ocean. The story, hardly a calm narrative, took shape. Film crews were booked in four countries and five locations: a rural English cowshed, a grand hotel room in Barcelona, town centre steps in Kherson, Beate´s Oslo sitting room, various airy spots in Bergen – and for the chorus, Edvard Grieg Kor, Rekstensamlingene. A section of Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra had their home space in Grieghallen – but at a safe distance from each other.

Nothing was truly straightforward. Birds sang at the wrong moment. Doors slammed and film extras – from Bergen Philharmonic Chorus – coughed suspiciously. As Andrei recorded his great Toreador aria on the steps of a Ukrainian town hall, an ancient Lada car phutt-phutted round the corner causing his miming to the background orchestral tape – at a critical top Bb moment - to crack into uncontainable mirth. Sounds had to be syncronised, lyrical melody matched to moody film, hours, days, weeks of editing ensued.

But here it is, a film, a surprising and wonderful film made in extraordinary circumstances by extraordinary people in remarkable places and rooted in beautiful Bergen. Pour a glass of Cava, settle in your chair. Listen and tremble as Carmen stares, pouting, from your screen. Prend garde a toi she says; watch out. Pass deg. Watch carefully. The séductrice and opera´s most famous bad girl is right there in the room beside you.

Mary Miller

20/08/2020

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