When certain works become canonical in the generally conservative world of ballet and opera, there's a tendency to forget that such entertainments once skirted the vanguard of controversy. Such is the case with the opera known as Carmen. Perhaps it's been responsible for dreary stereotyping of Iberian womanhood, but Georges Bizet took his racy, violent story about a Romany temptress, gangsters, a nave young soldier and a matador from a Prosper Mérimée novel that in turn was a hijacking of a Pushkin poem. A few weeks into its troubled premiere at Paris' family-friendly Opéra-Comique, the composer died of a heart attack at age 36. Bizet's score was soon set to dance, and 135 years later the scandalous tale has survived repeated iterations and overexposure.
In Raleigh, the Carolina Ballet attracted attention with its 2000 production, which is the basis for this spring's remounting. In a company press release, artistic director Robert Weiss announced that his new version amounts to a tightening of the action: "I realized that I had followed the opera very closely. There is a lot of filler [in the old version] that really wasn't necessary to the story line, and I think the few changes I have made make it a better ballet." There will be 11 performances between tonight and April 10. —David Fellerath