Bizet’s Carmen opened the season at Milan’s La Scala on Monday evening.
The show - that opened while outside in the street there was a rather animated demo organised by workers protesting about job cuts - was broadcast in selected cinemas all over the world, allowing many opera lovers based outside Milan to enjoy the event (and ignore in this way what was going on outside the theatre...).
The new production featured two newcomers, Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili and director Emma Dante.
Musically speaking the duets between Rachvelishvili and Jonas Kaufmann were striking, but what was even more striking was the way Carmen was transformed from a fatal and sensual woman, a sort of man-eater, into a free spirit.
Many praised conductor Daniel Barenboim, but critics didn't seem to enjoy Dante's interpretation of Carmen, in particular Franco Zeffirelli who highlighted how this production introduced to young audiences a sort of Satanic Carmen, with terrible scenes and horrible costumes.
Yet it’s exactly the costumes that aroused my interest and in particular a few details used to decorate them, the ex-voto hearts Carmen wears on her dress.
If you have ever visited Catholic churches especially in Rome or Naples, you may have seen entire walls covered in silver hearts, legs, feet, arms and hands, these are called ex-voto and are little tokens showing how a believer’s vow (voto) was fulfilled.
In the sacristy of the Pompeii sanctuary for example
there are entire rooms displaying thousands of silver ex-votos, but also crutches, prosthetic legs and other
tokens offered by believers.
Usually vows involve prayers or fasting in return for a cure and the silver figurines represent a healed part of the human body.
Such tokens – at times embossed with letters such as "PGR", "Per grazia ricevuta" (for a grace received) or "VFG", "Voto fatto grazie" (a vow was realised, thank you) – are usually hung next to a statue of the Virgin Mary or a saint.
Nowadays it is probably rarer for a believer to opt for an ex-voto as money offers have replaced such tradition, but I always found the silver ex-votos much more interesting, mysterious and at times even upsetting.
Ex-votos were already rather common in the classical world and even in the Greek and Roman cultures, though at the time they were made in materials such as clay and terra cotta.
Carmen’s director Emma Dante, who also worked on the costumes for this production, hails from Sicily, so it was only natural for her to strip this opera of any Spanish references and turn her protagonist into a woman from the South of Italy who proudly wears a costume on a which a little ex-voto - a silver heart surrounded by a filigree - is pinned around the breast area, almost as a metaphor for Carmen’s love pains.
If you like the idea of pinning a little ex-voto heart to your dress or to a jacket, check out antiquarian shops on the Internet or have a look in little antiquarian markets in Italy (like Porta Portese flea market - held every Sunday morning in Trastevere, Rome - NB it's cheaper to buy second-hand ex-votos in markets, though obviously the cheaper ones found in markets are not actually made in silver, but are only silver plated).
Also remember not to pick extremely large ex-votos and not to overcrowd your garments with small ex-votos to avoid "the statue of a saint" effect.Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos Add to Technorati Favorites Lijit Search