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Introducing... Carmen

A deep dive into our new production of Bizet's Carmen for Festival 2024

Festival 2024 opens with a deeply human Carmen from award-winning Broadway director Diane Paulus.

In the video below, Paulus tells us more about her visceral new production.

Read on, as opera expert Alexandra Coghlan explores opera’s most defiant heroine, and tells us what to expect…

Need to know

Georges Bizet’s Carmen set off a bomb in the genteel world of 1875 Paris: a heroine who smokes, drinks, fights and breaks the law, seduces men then casts them aside, a woman chasing freedom at any cost. The composer placed her at the centre of an opera whose words and music refuse to excuse or conceal, instead giving us sweat and smoke and blood – human bodies and emotions, uncensored and unrestrained. ‘I foresee a definite and hopeless flop,’ the composer wrote. How wrong he was…

Carmen tells the story of a rebellious woman. Imprisoned for fighting, she persuades soldier Don José to let her escape, then to abandon his life and join her life on the dangerous fringe of society. But when she falls for bullfighter Escamillo, Don José is consumed by jealousy. Unable to let Carmen go he confronts her: if he can’t have her, then no one will…

This is opera on the cusp of music-theatre. Dialogue links musical set-pieces, keeping the dramatic pace taut and swift. The tunes are many and memorable. There are dances and songs, huge choruses and passionate arias: this is opera putting on a show, beating Broadway at its own game. Bizet’s Paris had never seen anything like it before. And even now, novelty long since faded, the opera – and its defiant heroine – continues to seduce.

Why not to miss this production

Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus makes her Glyndebourne debut with this bold new Carmen. Intensely physical and visceral, Paulus’s staging – our first new production of Bizet’s opera in over 20 years – will ask the question: ‘What does Carmen mean today?’

The answer is an urgent statement about the human struggle for dignity and freedom in the face of oppression. The action unfolds in the borderlands, in illicit, underground communities, exploring makeshift homes, desperate lives and those living them. There are no villains and victims here, just damaged people struggling to survive in a brutal world.

Expect edgy choreography and stunning design in an unapologetically raw take on a classic tragedy from an American theatre giant.

A great moment to look out for

Carmen enters to the opera’s best-known music: the ‘Habanera’, a dance as dangerous and exciting as the heroine herself. Bizet supposedly rewrote this aria 13 times before he was happy. The final result is mesmerising: a sinuous melody curls and arches over a strutting rhythm – both strong and sensual – before opening out into a playful refrain. The static harmony gives the impression that we’re rooted to the spot, hypnotised by the dance. Unlike most arias, the ‘Habanera’ gives nothing away of Carmen’s true character. This is pure performance, precisely calculated to delight her audience…

You can get a taste in this performance by Danielle de Niese and Ben-San Lau…

Cast and creative team

Above: Rihab Chaieb (Photo: Timothy Fadek) and Aigul Akhmetshina (Photo: Lera Nurgalieva)

Two exciting casts will tackle Carmen this year, bookending the season in two separate runs. Glyndebourne music director Robin Ticciati continues his exploration of French repertoire, conducting the 16 May – 17 June run, with the ‘stunning’ (Broadway World) Tunisian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb in the title role. Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov and rising young Russian bass-baritone Dmitry Cheblykov battle for her affections as Don José and Escamillo. Russian soprano Sofia Fomina sings the role of good-girl Micaëla.

German conductor Anja Bihlmaier makes her Glyndebourne debut conducting the 1  24 August performances. ‘Exceptional’ (The Stage) mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina, who comes fresh from triumphant appearances at the Met and Royal Opera, is Carmen, while American tenor Evan Leroy Johnson, a ‘passionate’ (Classical Source) Prince in 2019’s Rusalka, returns to Glyndebourne as her jealous lover Don José. Janai Brugger is Micaëla, with Polish baritone Łukasz Goliński as Escamillo.

Carmen is on stage 16 May – 24 August 2024.
Members have priority access to tickets – the ballot opens in the New Year. Become a Member today.
Public booking opens in March 2024.

Supported by a Syndicate and Circle of individuals

Bring world-class opera to the stage

To find out more about production support for Festival 2024 click here
or contact our Director of Development, Helen McCarthy for an informal chat:
call 01273 815 032 or email

Image credits: Main image – Photography by Charles Stanislaw Graham/Thursday’s Child. Art direction & design by Ollie Winser | Rihab Chaieb – photo: Timothy Fadek and Aigul Akhmetshina – photo: Lera Nurgalieva

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