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Carmen On Cockatoo Island: A Classic Reimagined

Opera Australia is taking over Cockatoo Island with their latest production, ‘Carmen on Cockatoo Island'.

Carmen On Cockatoo Island. Photo: Prudence Upton.

A reimagining of a classic opera with a modern twist, audiences are sure to be wowed by this reinterpretation. Director Liesel Badorrek explains why ‘Carmen’ still rings true today.

How did you approach directing this reimagining of ‘Carmen’ for modern audiences?

Firstly, it was important that we look at the opera through the lens of contemporary standards and ideas. There's a global conversation about the misogyny of opera in a number of contexts. The history of the character of Carmen has been one of fetishing and demonising this 'wild woman'. I just want to inform our interpretation of the character by connecting her to real women...women I know.

We also wanted to give audiences something new with this work. Carmen is such a frequently performed opera that aspects of it have become cliches. This Carmen, performed on Cockatoo Island, is not set in a specific location or historical period. It’s not concerned with faithfully documenting a particular time or place. Rather, it plays in a cultural space, in an attitude, in an aesthetic of rebellion.

Why do you think ‘Carmen’ still resonates nearly 150 years after Bizet wrote it?

The story of Carmen has been told and retold countless times over generations. Both Bizet’s music and the character of Carmen are iconic. As the late legendary director, Peter Brook said “It’s not only an opera: it’s a phenomenon”. It has been revisited, reimagined and reinvented so many times, so endlessly discussed and explored that it has attained the status of myth. Myths are vital to who we are as a society. They are stories that we tell in order to understand ourselves and others — to try to make some sense of who we are and why we behave the way we do. Each new generation will examine and retell the same myth but it will be re-appropriated to reflect and explore the issues, anxieties and social conversations which loom most large for that society. That is the power of Carmen as a myth, far beyond the mere entertainment of a night at the opera. Musicologist Susan McClary puts it frankly: “if we were not still stuck in the dilemmas Merimee and Bizet point to, we would not be witnessing the endless stream of Carmen productions on stage, film and TV.”

I think this particular production will resonate with audiences today because by locating the story in a contemporary context we're inviting an audience to see actually how current the themes of the opera are. We're also using other 'languages' in the opera that will speak to a modern audience — projected imagery, contemporary choreography and a visual design style that will invite the audience to connect more completely with the world we're creating.

Carmen On Cockatoo Island. Photo: Hamilton Lund.

How does this performance make the most of the Cockatoo Island location?

Taking opera generally, and Carmen in particular, out of the polite and hallowed atmosphere of an opera house or theatre gives us a unique opportunity to be bold and unconventional with both the design and staging. Cockatoo Island is a singular space. An island in the middle of Sydney Harbour which has a unique majesty despite also feeling bleak and industrial. It invites an interpretation of Carmen which is very much ‘outsider’ — rough and urban, gritty and wild. The incredible beauty and muscularity of Bizet’s score is complimented and magnified by the creation of a world that feels like a dystopian present. The size of the site allows for staging choices that include motorbike chases, pyrotechnics and performance that feels like it surrounds the audience. The audience has come to this island and is now in the world of this Carmen — thrilling and dangerous.

What can audiences expect from ‘Carmen on Cockatoo Island’?

Audiences can expect an all-inclusive night out. There will be pop-up bars and dining options, spectacular views of Sydney’s Harbour, fireworks, and of course, an opera performance like no one has ever seen before…

Carmen on Cockatoo Island runs from 25 November to 18 December. More details and tickets are available from


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