×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Carmen: A Hip Hopera

"Carmen" is MTV's first "Hip Hopera," and while that phrase may be way too cute for its own good, this reworking of Bizet's opera into a contemporary, hip-hop musical works quite well, and represents one of the more original recent efforts to create a new form from an old one -- a clever blending of musicvideo and narrative story-telling, weaving hip hop dialogue and songs into a coherent, if not ultimately powerful, narrative.

With:
Carmen Brown - Beyonce Knowles Derrick Hill - Mekhi Phifer Frank Miller - Mos Def Rasheeda - Rah Digga Nikki - Joy Bryant Fortune Teller - Wyclef Jean Narrator - Da Brat Pockets - Jermaine DuPri Jalil - Lil' Bow Wow Blaze - Casey Lee Caela - Regan Preston-Gomez

“Carmen” is MTV’s first “Hip Hopera,” and while that phrase may be way too cute for its own good, this reworking of Bizet’s opera into a contemporary, hip-hop musical works quite well, and represents one of the more original recent efforts to create a new form from an old one. Directed by Robert Townsend (“The Five Heartbeats”) and cast with a combination of hip hop stars like “Destiny’s Child” Beyonce Knowles and Mos Def, and still-rising actors like Mekhi Phifer (“Clockers”), “Carmen” provides a clever blending of musicvideo and narrative story-telling, weaving hip hop dialogue and songs into a coherent, if not ultimately powerful, narrative. It is indeed “Music Television,” something that the cabler hasn’t been producing for a while, and while it isn’t going to encourage youth to subscribe to the Metropolitan Opera and won’t turn Bizet aficionados into rap fans, it does bridge a gap that had seemed impassable.

Film director Baz Luhrman did something similar with his “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,” which used the fast-paced, quick-cut style of music videos to tell a classic story to a young generation. Townsend does the same, but goes even further in incorporating the language of musicvideos into his tale. When the characters break into song here, which feels surprisingly natural, director of photography Geary McLeod and editor Jonathan Shaw take up the challenge of turning these scenes into self-contained sequences, filled with fanciful non-sequitur images and plenty of sex appeal, all while continuing to advance the storyline. Townsend very successfully keeps the flow of the narrative going even while the piece becomes an accumulation of musicvideos, linked with more traditional spoken scenes. (It was smart not to try to turn this into a piece that’s all sung, but it does keep it from being an opera in the most technical sense.)

Composer Kip Collins, and, especially, lyricist Sekani Williams, deserve a lot of credit just for managing not to make all this seem silly. Not all of the songs stand out as memorable tunes, but there are indeed a couple here that could easily be around for a bit. And while some of the lyrics can be overripe in their contrivance, that’s because rhythm and tone here take priority over subtlety. There’s a particularly fine sequence here, a duet between Knowles and Wyclef Jean, who in a cameo role portrays the fortune teller who delivers the ill-fated Carmen news of her distressing fate. It’s where everything “Carmen” is trying to do comes together, using the ethereal sound of the song to communicate the dramatic event and employing the visual style of musicvids to achieve the sense of an inescapable future.

Knowles makes a fine acting debut, and once again makes it clear that she’s got a surplus of star power. Other rappers, from Mos Def as the story’s villainous corrupt cop, to young Lil’ Bow Wow, all make solid impressions, clearly at home in capturing character through their singing delivery, a quality that makes hip hop a natural for this kind of dramatic experiment. Phifer plays Derrick Hill, the cop unlucky enough to fall for the super-seductive Carmen who finds himself in jail as a result, and the actor manages to keep up well with the professional musicians during the musical numbers.

While “Carmen” makes a case for incorporating contemporary sounds into a classic tale, it doesn’t quite deliver fully the potential emotional punch of the story. Executive producer Michael Elliot crafted this adaptation, which transplants the story from Spain to Philadelphia, turns the lead character from a gypsy to an aspiring actress, and takes the climax from a bullfight to a rap concert. It changes details of the story along the way, but the outline remains recognizable, as do some of Bizet’s phrasings thanks to Stephen James Taylor’s sharp underscoring. What doesn’t come through, though, is the fundamental sense of an overwhelming sexual obsession and what that can do to a good person. Instead, the piece gets a bit sidetracked with its focus on bad cops — it’s not really Carmen who seals Hill’s fate here, which is what it’s supposed to be. But that’s a forgivable weakness for a telepic as successfully original as this one.

Carmen: A Hip Hopera

MTV; Tues., May, 8, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Carmen Productions in association with New Line Television. Executive producers, Michael Elliot, Loretha Jones; producer, Graig Hutchison; director, Robert Townsend; writer, Michael Elliot.

Crew: Camera, Geary McLeod; editor, Jonathan Shaw; production designer, David Sackeroff; music, Kip Collins, lyrics, Sekani Williams; additional music, the Compadres, additional song, Keisha Robinson; casting, Robi Reed-Humes, Aisha Coley. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Carmen Brown - Beyonce Knowles Derrick Hill - Mekhi Phifer Frank Miller - Mos Def Rasheeda - Rah Digga Nikki - Joy Bryant Fortune Teller - Wyclef Jean Narrator - Da Brat Pockets - Jermaine DuPri Jalil - Lil' Bow Wow Blaze - Casey Lee Caela - Regan Preston-GomezWith: Sam Sarpong, Troy Winbush, Fred Williamson

More TV

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Jon Snow Arya Stark Game of

    'Game of Thrones' Final Season Vegas Odds Reveal Wild Theories

    With “Game of Thrones” hype at an all-time high, Las Vegas may be raking in as much money as the Iron Bank. HBO’s fantasy masterpiece has seized the gambling world’s attention nearly as much as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. Fans spew countless theories on social media, such as which characters will be axed [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content