Karmen with a Happy Ending – Goran Bregović

Oh, my God! I don’t think I’ve ever wasted 190 zlots per ticket on anything quite this bad. If we’d paid 30 zlots a ticket and the concert had been in some dingy back-street venue, I might be able to connect the dots but at that price and in the Sala Kongresowa it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

The show starts with members of the band (orchestra?) walking up to the stage and telling their part of a story. They do this in a language I’m not familiar with, possibly Romanian or Serbian and the Polish text is shown on a projection screen above the stage. The story itself seems to involve a great deal of X-rated text somehow revolving around Karmen and for some reason, Ceauşescu, who comes in for a fair amount of f’ing and blinding. It was at this point that we realised how lucky we were that Zosia was firstly not able to read the text and secondly not paying enough attention to hear the few words that sounded slightly Polish, the most frequent one being k*rwa.

It was roughly 3/4 of the way through this diatribe that the ‘napisy’ operator gave up completely, as did half of the audience. The napisy-boy was just winding the text up and down in the hope of eventually finding something that looked about right. The audience started heckling Bregović along the lines of “Shut the hell up and get on with the gypsy music!”. He explained in English that “This is theatre!” and appeared to be considering packing up and going home. Fair play to him, he stuck with it and we eventually got past the acid monologues and to the musical part. Phew!

The musical part was much better but still didn’t seem to hang together in quite the way I expected. The band consisted of Goran on what looked like a mix between a snare drum and a tambourine, a guy on a big drum, two trumpet players, a couple of bigger blowy things, a giant blowy thing and a sax. There were three ladies singing and dancing. It looked as if a bunch of people just got up on stage and started working out how to do this opera. The whole evening looked more like a rehearsal than a polished performance. The napisy-boy had by now taken to drink and the text was all over the place. The only hope he had was if there was a repeated simple phrase, something like “Ho, ho ho!” that would allow him to find the right point. He went off to the bar for refills at one point and left us with a screen showing quite simply – “F*ck the violins!” – for at least 15 minutes! Amidst all this chaos there was some good music and singing but nowhere near enough to make the whole evening worthwhile. The only moment that I thought I vaguely knew what was going on was when there was a sort of “battle of the trumpets” with one playing refrains from the original opera score and the other attacking with gypsy tunes.

I imagine if he’s got the whole ‘Wedding and Funeral’ orchestra together and they are playing something more focused and simple, like good old gypsy music, then it could be a very enjoyable evening, but this was not like that. Not one little bit.


Surprisingly, there was quite a bit of audience approval of all this nonsense. Throughout the performance there were ripples of excitement and applause at the strangest of times and at the end some people actually demanded more. One can only assume Goran had coaches organised to bring his relatives and groupies to the show.

If you’re a masochist you can buy the album.



12 thoughts on “Karmen with a Happy Ending – Goran Bregović

  1. Did you read it ?

    So if i were you, i would visit the Sala Kongresowa tomorrow and demand ticket money refund. It is quite possible that you get it…or at least some % .

  2. “the most frequent one being k*rwa”

    Then it was either Serbian or Croatian. In Romanian the word would mean something more like “a turning”, just as in Italian.

    Sorry it was such a disappointment.

  3. They were using the word instead of ‘prostitute’ – as far as I could tell. If I had to put money on it I’d say the same, Serbian or Croatian. The singers were from Bulgaria though but they weren’t talking, just singing.

    Money back – good idea! Yes, I did read it, so did Marta. Seems to agree with our own opinion. You’ve got to love the google auto-translate service!

    When people ultimately led to mash eyes with astonishment, light przygasły and began the second act. This time, speakers popłynęła music. Finally, there was no reason to narzekania – the audience could enjoy a game of the Bregović “Orchestra Weselno-funeral”, which czekano nearly an hour. Too bad only that the so-briefly.


  4. wtf, Goran Bregovic? such utter rubbish? too big for your britches? saw his performance last night in Paris, at the Basilique de St. Denis (awesome cathedral, nice acoustics). wasted time and 26 euro because i love his music. i went for some of his good old fashioned gypsy music. we got a bit of that, all right. then there was a weird symphonic piece with gypsy music and classical alternating, but never enough of either or any integration. annoyingly, it just whet the appetite but didn’t feed. then it got worse.

    on came a woman, wailing and crying about the war in bosnia. all in french, thankfully, so i could shut out most of the actual words. got a nap in. she starts off by reading something by ivo andric and then goes on for AN HOUR WITH THIS. wtf? where’s the music? yes, i know the war sucked big donkey organs, but i was there for music, not a diatribe. i think this piece was called “karmen with a happy ending.”. ooo, was it lousy. on top of that “Carmen, with a happy ending” is what i’ve been using for 10 years to describe my Bollywood vision of Carmen (see below).

    the whole thing reminded me of “Walk Hard” where Dewey Cox puts together a whole symphony with digeridoos, pygmies, a large orchestra, a triangle and 2 goats, and the sound is awful. he asks for more digeridoos and goats. none of it will, of course, help. this is what GB did. ugh.

    the parisians sitting there were too polite to see that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothing. clap, clap. c’mon dudes! boo the guy off stage. get out of your chairs, dance when the music kicks in! to his credit, GB did play kalashnikov in the end. yay.

    next time, i’m sticking with Honk! in Somerville, during Octoberfest in Harvard Square, thanks very much. same music, more visceral, 3 day non-stop party. i’ll be careful with bucket list items from here on.

    i’ve been using “Carmen with a happy ending” for 10 years to describe a Bollywood movie based on Carmen that I dream of making. bollywood loves good melodies & Carmen has great ones, bankable since 1875. it just needs a happy ending and her to not be sluttish. the last 20 minutes of the opera are shit anyway. pisses me off that Bregovic stole my title for his tripe.

  5. Didn’t read much of this chat, just enough to wish to answer very shortly. I am sad to read what you say here.. So maybe some can hear another version.

    Goran is my friend.
    I know his work very well, I love and respect him very much. ..
    and I know quite much about all Gipsy kind of music.
    Goran told me about his Karmen before it was out, I red the text he was writing.
    Then he invited me to Paris to see it ( yes , I didn’t pay..;-)) )
    And for me Karmen was not at all what you say.

    I was so amazed that such a great and famous compositor and musician can use the lowest profil to REALLY pay an hommage to Gypsy Art.
    Such a releive to see that out of simplicity, and out of not pretending, not trying to “over act” , with no special effects or shining names, a natural poetry of wonder and sadness was flowing all over the place..
    And all what you call “caos” or “nonsense”, in the context of the real purpose of this opera, makes so much sense that probably most cannot understand.. Gypsies live in this chaos so often.. and living in the streets, begging or being a hore is not something that feels clean and perfect. That is Karmen’s world. A terrible dramatic life that is painted with poetry, with colours, with dreams and prayers in the mud of violence, mens agression on women and misery of human despair..

    Too bad.
    If you know about Goran, if you are more subtle and sensitive, you can easily understand that he could have put up a “glamour fashion gypsy” thing. All politically correct and shining like a perfect mirror.

    But no, he really brought us back to the dirty street, to very good or very ugly looking,
    to musicians doing as actors without trying to act..all naked and terribly natural.
    little papers on our chairs with paintings and romantic cartoon about birds and bicycle..this mixt of magic dream and miserable drunken brutal men.. great piece of paradoxal Art only available to the eyes of the heart.

    The deepest things may seem very simple and normal.

    With my respect, Myriam Szabo.

  6. Myriam, I’m sure you’re right that there’s more to it than meets the eye, or ear. The main problem was expectations. We and many others expected something completely different and were therefore surprised and disappointed by what we got.

    Whether that’s Goran’s fault or ours is debatable.

    In any event, thanks for your insightful comment.

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