Sunday, November 16, 2008

Intimate Partner Violence at the Opera

We went to Carmen this afternoon. The Discovery Theater at the Performing Arts Center is a wonderful space. Acoustics are good and no one is too far from the action.

But I have to say, that since being on a steering committee for the prevention of intimate partner violence I see things I probably would have glossed over in the past. Here's an opera about a woman who makes sport out of seducing men. Except Don Jose becomes infatuated and when Carmen is over him, he becomes obsessed.

Certainly others must have made the connection between Carmen and Domestic Violence. Or so you'd think. But Google doesn't reveal many who have done much about it. The first ten pages of Google hits for Carmen+Domestic Violence show us a lot of women named Carmen who were the victims of domestic violence, with a few more who work in that field. There was only one hit (on page 2) related to the opera. The Syracuse opera had a discussion with one of their performances of Carmen:

If you think you’ve seen Carmen in all her blazing persona, wait until you experience this more intimate version of Bizet’s famous opera by Peter Brook, the provocative English theatre and film director. Designed to intensify the psychological state of Carmen, Brook’s adaptation (with Marius Constant and Jean-Claude Carrière) focuses solely on the three main characters: Carmen, Don Jose, Micaela. The New York Times called Brook’s innovative version of Carmen “a raw, brutal tale of mutual self destruction that’s fueled by both lust and existential bloodlust – and is as deadly for others as it is for themselves.”

Syracuse Opera's LIVING OPERA series in collaboration with VERA HOUSE and the Redhouse Arts Center present:


A FREE insider's look into La Tragédie de Carmen and its parallels to modern day domestic violence issues

•Spot the 'red flags' of potential domestic violence issues in relationships•
•Explore the 'good girl vs. bad girl' stereotype and its effect on violence towards women•

Join us as we discuss the contemporary issues being brought to light by this raw, brutal electrifying opera.

Panel Speakers include: Stage director Jeffrey Tangeman, Syracuse Opera's Director of Music Douglas Kinney Frost, and Radio Host and Vera House [A Domestic Violence intervention and prevention organization] Advocate Elisa Morales.

Adding 'opera' to the search terms narrows things down a lot. We get a booklist from the Boston Public Library to prepare for the Boston Lyric Opera's performance of Carment that includes:

Sex! Violence! Bullfights! Smoking! Great music!
Georges Bizet's Carmen is one of the world's best-loved operas. It tells the story of the Spanish gypsy girl, Carmen who took love all too lightly. From the opening of the opera in front of a cigarette factory to the dramatic conclusion of the story in front of the bullring, very little of human emotion remains unsung. This booklist is designed for the opera-lover and the opera-neophyte in celebration of Boston Lyric Opera's "Carmen on the Common" and its preview performances at the Boston Public Library.

Defending Our Lives: Getting Away from Domestic Violence & Staying Safe by Susan Murphy-Milano
A resource which offers step-by-step plans for leaving abusive relationships

In How to Stop Elder Abuse Anne Hart writes:

I don't really know if the Discovery Theater has a cloak room, but from this jumble of coats during intermission, it would appear other people don't know about it if there is one. I'd pay a dollar not to have to sit on my coat.

Anyway, after about 30 minutes of Googling, I've really only found the one opera company - in Syracuse - that seems to have done anything about using Carmen as a way to educate opera goers about intimate partner and domestic violence.

I think that every domestic violence intervention and prevention agency in communities that have opera should get in touch with their opera companies and begin working now to collaborate with them on any production of Carmen. I'm embarrassed I didn't think about it here in Anchroage. There can be a page or two in the program. There can be before or after performance discussions. I can't imagine an opera company that could, politically, turn down such a request. Syracuse seems to have a model that can be used as a starting point.

There's no reason to stop performing Carmen, but it is important to use such performances to raise people's consciousness of domestic and intimate partner violence and how to work to prevent it.

1 comment:

  1. I read some Robert Benchley and other humor writers of the 1930's and they joked about domestic violence. I was galled by it, even taking into consideration the time.

    We didn't even have our first women's shelters until 1972, and then it was slow going.

    I just found out that female inmates often go straight back into the bad situations (abusive) because they have no place to go and there is nothing set up to help them get out of the often brutal situations that put them into prison in the first place.

    In 1976, Nebraska was the first state to abolish marital rape and it wasn't till 1993 that all states had laws against it. (I remember my ex husband saying, "If I can't rape my wife, who can I rape?" He soon found out who he COULDN'T rape.)

    You are very right in ways this could be presented with a talk on abuse, but it was being advertised with glamor. Would glamor and seriousness mix well or take away from the glitz?


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