Carmen La Cubana: ‘It’s an iconic statement of rebellion’

ELEGY by Payne, , Writer - Nick Payne, Director - Josie Rourke, Designer - Tom Scutt, Lighti

ELEGY by Payne, , Writer - Nick Payne, Director - Josie Rourke, Designer - Tom Scutt, Lighting - Paule Constable, The Donmar Warehouse, London, UK, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/ - Credit: Johan Persson

Bizet’s classic is reimagined on the dawn of the Cuban revolution - and it’s coming to Sadler’s Wells in August.

It’s the story of Carmen, but with a Latin twist - not how the 19th century French opera was envisaged by its composer Georges Bizet. But Carmen La Cubana narrates a gripping love story set against the backdrop of 1950s Cuba at the dawn of the revolution.

The musical theatre production running at Sadler’s Wells from August 1-18 features choreography that fuses rumba, cha-cha-cha and mambo to evoke the feisty spirit of the Cuban revolution.

The entire cast has been recruited from Havana, after director Christopher Renshaw spent months on the Caribbean island conducting research and auditions. When Renshaw first heard the voice of jazz singer Luna Manzanales (Carmen), he immediately knew she was right for the role.

“I heard this extraordinary voice and almost ran downstairs. She was sent from the gods I believe,” he says.

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Renshaw, who was nominated for a Tony award for his production of The King and I on Broadway, thinks the twist on the classic story will resonate with modern audiences.

“I think people understand the idea of a country on the edge of a crisis where culture is about to collapse,” he says. “The Cuban revolution is an iconic statement of rebellion. Che Guevara is one of the most famous faces in the world and the revolution is a symbol of either oppression or freedom fighting; whatever way you look at it. People will see some connection with the woman living amongst it. It’s a universal entrance into an old story.”

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Renshaw lived in Havana for three months, absorbing the culture of Cuba as he reinvented the opera. He was heavily influenced by the music of Santeria, an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that developed throughout the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. A band of 12 people playing Afro-Cuban rhythms on a combination of classical and Latin American instruments, back the familiar tunes of Bizet.

He says that although Carmen’s character dates back to the late 1800’s, he finds her to be “quite modern”, which he thinks will captivate audiences.

“She will do nothing for no one. She’s about independence and freedom of thinking. That’s what I like about her. Although her end isn’t happy, she’s not frightened of her fate. I admire that type of person.”

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