Opera Meets Film: How the Intermezzo from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ Is Used to Draw Thematic Connections with “Someone Has to Die’By David Salazar
“Opera Meets Film” is a feature dedicated to exploring the way that opera has been employed in cinema. We will select a film section or a film in its entirety and highlight the impact that utilizing the operatic form or sections from an opera can alter our perception of a film that we are viewing. This week’s installment features the Netflix miniseries “Someone Has to Die!”
In “Someone Has to Die,” creator Manolo Caro takes a look at Spanish society during the fascist regime of Franco to explore themes of discrimination as they pertain not only to the LGBTQ community but also racist attitudes toward Latin Americans, specifically Mexicans.
The story, no doubt highlights many parallels to modern American society, in the prevailing sense of doom and gloom that not only its title emphasizes, but the desaturated visual style and the mini-series’ (or should I just call it a long film?) repeated references to caged birds being shot for sport.
Opera doesn’t play a prevalent role, but artistic expression and the freedom it provides is expressed through the character of Lázaro, a ballet dancer who travels to Spain with his friend Gabino. Lázaro is the ultimate outsider. Not only is his connection to Spain coincidental, but he is immediately ostracized by all of Gabino’s family members (save for Mina, a Mexican immigrant who married into the family) for his heritage and then further minimized for being a dancer and even gay (which he is not). His struggle throughout the mini-series is one of survival.
It’s unsurprising that when Caro gives him his first dance sequence of the film, he is underscored by the Intermezzo from Bizet’s “Carmen.”
This gentle piece comes at a moment in the opera right after Don José has joined Carmen and her troupe; love is in the air and it seems that the two lovers might be destined for the kind of romantic sublimity they both seemingly desire.
But “Carmen” takes a dramatic turn after this Intermezzo with Don José and Carmen at ends in the ensuing act, all the way through the rest of the work.
So this intermezzo gives us a brief glimpse at what love between José and Carmen might feel like. Tender, soothing, but all too brief.
One cannot overlook the fact that “Carmen” is also an expression of the racial discrimination and male toxicity (a.k.a. machismo) inherent in Spanish culture. José doesn’t fall from grace so much as abandon his mother and fiancée to pursue his desire for a woman that he wants to not love, but possess. That he ultimately murders her is an expression of how this corrosive male toxicity destroys not the man, but women in the social structure. In this case, a gypsy woman, further accentuating the racial undertones within the story.
It is fitting that it is music from “Carmen,” that first connects Lázaro and Mina. The latter is stuck in an abusive marriage (one of the first scenes between Mina and her husband Gregoria is one in which he rapes her); she longs to leave her husband, but finds herself trapped by the fascist regime. One night, she wanders down the hallway to find Lázaro dancing to this very intermezzo. Closeups reveal a sense of longing that will be built up throughout the remainder of the mini-series, climaxing in a passionate kiss and then a full-on expression of their love in the woods that not only frees them emotionally but also frees Gabino from jail (he’s arrested for being gay).
The tenderness of the music and how it underscores what is to come between Mina and Lázaro also suggests that like Carmen and Don José’s short-lived romance, there is no future for the two Mexicans. In the miniseries’ final shot, Mina and Gabino look on at Lázaro’s corpse, murdered by the series’ ultimate expression of Spanish fascism and its toxic culture, Gabino’s grandmother Amparo.
“Some Has to Die” ends on an alarmingly strange note, but one that mirrors/contrasts “Carmen’s” own finale. José murders Carmen and then sits there waiting to be arrested for his crime. Gabino and Mina, after all the bloodshed that has taken place (four people shot dead), stand there taking in the scene. With the exception of Lázaro, the victims stand over their murdered oppressors, but with little feeling of redemption before them. Presumably, like José standing over Carmen’s body, the police will show up and take them away to a likely death or imprisonment. Carmen is murdered by male toxicity. Gabino and Mina, both victims of this toxic culture, will also be killed by it or continue to suffer under it.
CategoriesOpera Meets Film