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The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture Friday, July 25, 2014

Carmen: A tragedy foretold in the (post) cards

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Posted: Friday, June 27, 2014 5:00 am

The golden age of American and European picture postcards began at the turn of the 20th century and lasted for about 15 giddy years. World War I put a damper on the fad, and in the United States the death knell was sounded in 1917, when mailing rates for postcards increased from one penny to two. During that short span, printers issued a torrent of postcards depicting every imaginable topic. Opera was well served, and a number of publishers issued postcards in series that, taken together, offered a condensed narrative of a work’s plot. The Milan firm of E. Sormani managed to condense Carmen into nine seminal images, each accompanied by a bit of text (in Italian translation) and a snippet of relevant musical notation. As a group, this set of cartoline liriche, which appeared just after 1900, might be taken as a harbinger of the graphic novels of a century later.

Act I: Following a vivacious orchestral Prelude in which bull-fighting music sets the scene in Seville, soldiers watch over a public square that fronts a tobacco factory. Micaëla, arrived from the country, seeks a corporal named Don José; but, frightened by the busy scene, she runs off. Arriving after a changing of the guard, Don José tells his lieutenant, Zuniga, about Micaëla, an orphan girl from back home in Navarre who has been raised by his saintly mother. He also alerts Zuniga about the girls who will shortly return to the factory to continue rolling cigars following their lunch break. They arrive, dominated by La Carmencita (Carmen). She sings her seductive Habanera, espousing that one should seize love when one can. She throws a flower at Don José’s feet. He picks it up but tucks it away when Micaëla arrives back at the square bearing a letter from his mother urging him to marry Micaëla. She leaves on an errand and a fight breaks out in the factory. It seems Carmen is to blame, and Don José is ordered to conduct her to jail. She seduces him by singing the sinuous Seguidilla and he lets her get away.

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