Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sexuality becomes big issue among local performers in Australian staging of Bizet’s “Carmen” in Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

The countdown to the opening night of Bizet’s “Carmen” at the National Theater in Taipei on July 9 has begun.
Matthew Barclay, staff director of Opera Australia’s production in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra under Chien Wen-pin as well as the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus, has not been very happy with the acting of the local performers.

On Tuesday night, Johnny Ku, the choir master, described Barclay as “frustrated” in getting the Taiwanese cast to rise up to his expectations.

Sexuality on the stage has been the big issue. Barclay has observed how the men and women from this part of the world have not been comfortable in showing it. They have balked at openly reaching out and touching sensually somebody of the opposite sex. The repressed Asian culture has been inhibiting the local performers from completely letting go and acting naturally.

“This is a story set in Seville, Spain,” Barclay emphasized. “The wildness of the gypsies and the openness in show of passion of the Spaniards are expected.”

He remarked further: “The men, in fact, have been showing themselves to be even more nervous than the women.”

“The supporting cast members cannot help worrying about what their spouses and children will think when they come to see the opera,” said Lin Chung-kuang, who is singing the role of Le Dancairo. “At one point in the opera, I have to naughtily grab the buttock and also the thigh of a woman. Anyway, my wife will not see this for she will not be in Taipei.”

The staff director from Melbourne, whose job is mainly to follow through the blocking of stage director Francesca Zambello, has been patiently and meticulously explaining to the 48 members of the chorus the particular roles they must enact in “Carmen.” He has this mindset of not allowing a single performer to ruin the staging of the beautiful opera. He, in fact, has been training the less experienced cast members to deliver. Most of them have learned to act by watching closely the professional dancers from Australia.

The American Kirsten Chavez and the Hungaian Viktoria Vizin as the femme fatale gypsy Carmen have been amazing the chorus with their ability to both sing and act during rehearsals of a fight scene. Bizet’s extremely popular opera, which is sung in French, makes high demands on the singing and acting of the vocalists.

In the cast of “Carmen,” Richard Troxell and Justin Lavender are alternating as Don Jose. Michael Todd Simpson is singing the part of matador Ecamillo. Portraying Micaela are Hye Seoung Kwon and Chen Mei-lin. Other local vocalists picked for this production are: Kewei Wang as Morales, Liau Chong-boon as Zuriga, Lin Shiang-yeu as Frasquita, Shih I-chiao as Mercedes, Chen Chung-yi as El Renendado and Lin Chung-kuang as Le Dancairo.

No less than 250 people will be working on the stage, behind the scene and in the orchestra pit to bring to life Bizet’s “Carmen” on July 9, 10, 11 and 12. Tickets have been sold out since four weeks ago.

Photo of Michael Todd Simpson as singing matador Ecamillo was taken during the welcome reception hosted by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei on June 30.

1 comment:

  1. I am just wondering if the director eventually has any strategy to overcome the cultural differences impede the representation of sexuality.