French opera “Carmen” gets a fresh take in Glow Lyric Theatre’s production. Away from the Spanish bullfights, Glow tells Carmen’s story of surviving a difficult world.

Portraying the cigar factory worker Carmen, Chanelle Woods says her character fights against the systems of society that try to keep women bound. 

“She is typically played as this overtly sexual sort of character, and I like that we’re actually giving her a bit more substance,” Woods says. “She is fiercely independent.”

No longer interested in her relationship with Don Jose, she falls in love with Escamillo, but the troubled Don Jose can’t let go of Carmen.

“She is who she is,” Woods says. “She loves freely; she lives freely; she does and moves as she pleases.”

Woods says Glow’s “Carmen” makes it difficult for audiences to ask a question most women in abusive relationships hear: “Why didn’t you leave him?”

“It’s showing the way [Don Jose’s] got his claws in her and how he just can’t let go. And it’s not her fault,” she says. “That personalizes it because it is such a rampant problem in South Carolina.”

Set in an almost dystopian society, “Carmen” imagines a world where women have little freedom. Artistic director Jenna Tamisiea Elser says they chose to present Carmen not as a luring seductress but as a fighter.

“What’s actually happening is she’s the brave and bold person that says, ‘I won’t stand for this, and I’m going to live the way that I want to live,’” Elser says.

With Safe Harbor as the show’s partner, “Carmen” centers on a women trapped in an abusive relationship. 

“Those are the relevant things that we need to be talking about right now that are happening here in the state,” she says. “It’s a countrywide problem — domestic abuse, misogyny against women, and equity.”

Carmen
Carmen is an independent woman fighting against society’s restraints on women. Photo by Will Crooks.

Songs audience members will recognize

“Carmen” contains songs like “Habanera” and “Toreador Song” that many audience members will recognize because of their frequent use in pop culture. Glow’s version of the opera stays true to Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera, while staging it for today’s viewers.

Glow’s executive director Christian Elser says “Carmen” has a touching story, great music, and talented singers. “We want to express something viscerally,” he says. “We want to exercise the empathy muscle.”

Christian Elser hopes “Carmen” opens a dialogue for audiences. “We need to understand and empathize and see other points of view and feel them before we intellectualize them,” he says. “I think not enough of that goes on.”

This opera is rated PG-13 for violence and potentially triggering moments. It’s sung in French with projected English translations.

‘Carmen’

When: July 26-Aug. 3
Where: The Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St., Greenville
Tickets: $38-$48
Info: https://bit.ly/2XnNETW

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