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Culture

Car Men Rescue Carmen

After Dresden’s Semper Opera fell victim to summer floods, the city was forced to look elsewhere for a suitable stage for musical performances. Volkswagen generously volunteered its factory for the debut of Carmen.

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The Volkswagen factory in Dresden serves as the Semper Opera's temporary home

Automobile manufacturers and operas have little in common. But in Dresden, the two are united in the rather unusual production of "CAR-men", a version of Georges Bizet’s masterpiece "Carmen," which is being put on in the nearby Volkswagen factory.

The idea for the production was born out of necessity. After Dresden’s world-famous Semper Opera House fell victim to last August’s floods, the city needed to find a temporary staging ground for musical events. But as most of the rest of the historical city was equally damaged by water, not many traditional venues remained for hosting the season’s big production numbers.

That’s when the German car maker Volkswagen volunteered its glass atrium in the newly-built factory outside Dresden as an opera stage.

Full-speed ahead for opera

The offer from a car manufacturer to host an opera was unusual enough for the city’s art patrons, but even more so considering that it came from Volkswagen and not the official sponsor of Saxony’s State Opera, DaimlerChrysler AG. But the car executives agreed that the show must go on, and they pitched in to help bring Bizet’s "Carmen" to life amidst the production of VW’s luxury auto, the Phaeton.

Phaeton fliegt

VW's new luxury sedan Phaeton

Of course, the traditional score had to be adapted slightly to fit the less-than-operatic surroundings of the production hall, but director Harry Kupfer’s 1991 version written for the Comic Opera in Berlin was ideally suited for this.

In putting on the opera in the VW plant, Kupfer allowed himself to be inspired by the motorized surroundings of Germany’s "People’s Car." For starters, the characters sing in contemporary German, rather than Italian, and the whole look and feel of the opera is focused on the here and now.

Besides an elevated stage and costuming, there was nothing elaborate to the production. The stage designer relied entirely on the given surroundings, incorporating the factory’s stairs and various balconies into the performance.

And lest the audience be led to think the event was taking place in an ordinary opera house, Kupfer added a few props from the VW workshop. Just shortly after the start, a freshly-minted Phaeton rolled out onto "center stage," and later in the show a VW-Bulli appeared from out of the motor museum. And several replacement parts were also scattered around the stage to remind the viewers where they were.

Music in full-throttle

Despite the unusual setting and the predictably poor acoustics that come from singing in a wide open hall, the opening performance on Saturday night was sold out. Many came to demonstrate their support for the Semper Opera House, which will benefit from the sales of tickets, and others came out of sheer curiosity.

At the end of the evening though, the audience was unanimous in its approval. More than 450 people awarded the director and the State Opera of Saxony with a standing ovation. Even officials from DaimlerChrysler applauded the Volkswagen production of "Carmen".

Throughout the next month, the factory will host 11 further performances, until the opera’s closing night on November 22. After that, the musicians and singers will move back into their home in the Semper Opera.