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Bizet in Khayelitsha: U-Carmen eKhayelitsha as audio-visual transculturation

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This article takes as its focus Mark Dornford-May's film opera U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (Dornford-May 2005), set in the South African township of Khayelitsha and based on Bizet's opra comique Carmen. The authors of the article approach the film opera in a self-consciously audio-visual and interdisciplinary way, paying attention at once to its operatic, filmic and socio-political worlds. They prefer not to rehearse arguments in favour of the politics of gender and sexuality, as is usual in the Carmen on film literature. Rather, an adaptation of Fernando Ortiz's concept of transculturation proves a useful theoretical frame for the study. The way in which U-Carmen eKhayelitsha strives for operatic authenticity (faithfully rendering Bizet) and filmic authenticity (faithfully rendering the township) forces a collision between two conceits of cultural difference. The authors argue that the binaries of sight and sound, stereotypes of low and high, local and global, present and past, Africa and opera, textual and contextual are both forcefully articulated and troubled in this film opera. These disarticulations, far from jettisoning the filmic effect, explain U-Carmen eKhayelitsha's enormous vitality, restlessness and enabling energy. In the end, the authors argue that the operatic text and township context are de-cultured and then re-cultured in ways that evince powerfully emotional processes of transcultural change.
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Keywords: Bizet; South Africa; U-Carmen eKhayelitsha; film; opera; transculturation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Berkeley. 2: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Publication date: 01 April 2010

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