“Is it still politically correct to call Carmen a gypsy?”

Carmen. The Dallas Opera.

Carmen. The Dallas Opera.

The other day I was looking for an article describing the “other” in the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers for my students. The “other” is that group of people that we find strange, or fear, or hate—you know, Christians, illegal aliens, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, blacks, whites, Evangelicals. You name a group and some group thinks they are the “other” and hates them with a passion.

I came across an article I hoped would be interesting for the classes. It was of moderate interest for me because it’s about Bizet’s Carmen, which I saw yesterday at the Dallas Opera. The only interesting sentence in the article is the last.

. .. different terms for wandering strangers show just how hard it can be to find the right word for “the other” (1).

If you’re bored by opera, skip this paragraph:

The production was wildly grand—and authentic.  Clémentine Margaine was, as advertised, glorious of voice and expressive as an actor as Carmen, Bruno Ribeiro was a sexy and engulfed Don Jose, and—the best surprise—Mary Dunleavy was intensely effective—and glorious of voice—as Micaela (which role is usually played by a nebbish of a soprano).

So back to the “other” and “political correctness.”

I hope all you liberals out there refuse to use that phrase: it was thought up by the self-styled “conservative” ancestors of the Tea Baggers to put us liberals down because we don’t particularly like to use words that emphasize “otherness.”  You know, like “Don we now our fun apparel.” Yuk!

Is Carmen a gypsy or is she simply a wild woman who loves her men? Or is she a fascinatingly complex character who has elements of both, and a personality much more complicated than either. And who sings about her psychological makeup in the most glorious and popular melodies in all of opera—perhaps in all music that anyone (everyone) is familiar with. What straight man in his right mind could resist that melody (or gay man at his most “sensitive”)?

A One-Night Stand

A One-Night Stand

Perhaps she’s simply a “bohemian.”  Ruth Walker says, “In the 19th century, bohemian came to refer to those who live outside the conventions of ordinary society, typically as some sort of artist” (2).

My introduction to Carmen (both the opera and the woman) came from a set of 78rpm records of all of Carmen’s arias by Rise Stevens my gay uncle gave me when I was about 12 or 13 years old. He had purchased a modern LP recording of the entire opera and no longer needed Rise Stevens—one of the luckiest musical breaks of my life.

Soon after that I saw a production of La Boheme by a traveling company as part of the Community Concert Association season in Scottsbluff, NE. A couple of years later, the CCA brought a company that sang Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex in a concert version (pretty wild stuff for Scottsbluff, but I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like it, so I did). I particularly liked the mask Oedipus donned with blood running out of his eyes.

Close up of my sofa (See Nov. 8 post). Thanks to my sister. Note the Ralph Luren pillow.

Close up of my sofa (See Nov. 8 post). Thanks to my sister. Note the upside-down Ralph Lauren pillow.

I was hooked. I have very few regrets in my life. I suppose it isn’t really a regret (an “I wonder what would have happened”) that I took organ lessons instead of sticking with the piano long enough to become proficient enough somehow to have a career in opera instead of church music—a conductor or a vocal coach or a rehearsal accompanist at the Met.

Oh well.

The question one needs to ask at this point really has nothing to do with Carmen. Or everything to do with Carmen.  “Is it still politically correct to call an old gay man who can’t get enough of Rise Stevens (or Mary Dunleavy) an ‘opera queen’?”

Don’t you dare.

[Apropos of nothing or everything: I don’t know why everything reminds of some poem these days. But here’s one to go with this posting. It’ll make your reading this far worthwhile whether my writing does or not.]

by Harvey Shapiro

Drunk and weeping. It’s another night
at the live-in opera, and I figure
it’s going to turn out badly for me.
The dead next door accept their salutations,
their salted notes, the drawn-out wailing.
It’s we the living who must run for cover,
meaning me. Mortality’s the ABC of it,
and after that comes lechery and lying.
And, oh, how to piece together a life
from this scandal and confusion, as if
the gods were inhabiting us or cohabiting
with us, just for the music’s sake.
(1) Walker, Ruth. “‘Carmen,’ gypsies, bohemians, and ‘others’.” Christian Science Monitor 30 Jan. 2013: N.PAG. (2) Ibid.

2 Responses to “Is it still politically correct to call Carmen a gypsy?”

  1. Pingback: “living in a fever of love” | Sumnonrabidus's Blog

  2. Pingback: “. . . the fiery sun now goes his way; shed thou within our hearts thy ray. . .” | Me, senescent

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