Carmen: The Public Service Announcement
A Look at Carmen's Morals
Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? This discussion will offer students an opportunity to review the notes on their My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about the set design and staging of this Met production—in short, to see themselves as Carmen experts.
The character of Carmen is often described as feisty and independent. Some have even called her a proto-feminist for her refusal to let men make decisions about her life. For instance, in Act I she finds a way not to go to prison; in Act II she turns down Escamillo, refuses to join the smugglers while she’s waiting for José, then threatens to dump José if he won’t follow her to the mountains.
At the same time, Carmen uses feminine wiles both to achieve her own goals and to serve the smugglers. Much of her life seems to revolve around men. At the beginning of Act IV, she presents herself as Escamillo’s consort. At the end of Act IV, it is José who seals her fate. Do your students see Carmen as a role model for women today? Do they consider her to be a moral person? Does her behavior indicate healthy self-esteem? A realistic sense of personal autonomy?
To assess Carmen’s character, students may create a list of actions she takes and statements she makes. (To spur their memory of distinct moments in the opera, they can use the list on the My Highs & Lows worksheet.) Either individually or in groups, they can debate approval or disapproval of her moral behavior, the independence of her actions, the decisions she makes and the way she makes them.
If Carmen lived today, she might be an ideal person to appear in a Public Service Announcement (PSA), advising teens on the challenges they face. Whether as a role model or as a troubled person in recovery, she could discuss her own experiences and the lessons they hold for today’s kids.
As follow-up, students may write a script for a 30-second PSA featuring Carmen, aimed at helping adolescent TV viewers. If they like, they can use cellphones or camcorders to shoot the video and share it with the class.