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Bling … from left, Rinat Shaham, Gale Edwards, and Milijana Nikolic. Edwards has drawn inspiration from Hollywood. Photo: Tamara Dean

TUESDAY 10.30am. Rehearsals. Day one. Short in stature, but big on ideas director Gale Edwards tells the cast and crew assembled for a new production of one of the world's most popular operas she deliberately won't date her production of Carmen. They also have just three weeks of rehearsals.

Edwards ''reserves the right'' to draw broadly on imagery from the long dictatorship of Spain's General Franco, she says, standing in the aptly named Hall of Legends at Sydney Olympic Park.

She was a revolutionary thinker, far ahead of her time. 

Besides, she confides to Fairfax Media, people will nitpick about, say, the specific details of a soldier's outfit if a particular year is named.

Yet who would notice? Amid the bright and blingy white and red matador costumes, pop-art yellow and black-skirted bullfight ladies, the gaggle of dancing boys flaying one gypsy's four-metre-round skirt into shapes and 60 flamenco dancers, Opera Australia is preparing a riot of colour to launch Bizet's Carmen as its second Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour from March 22.

Following last year's success of La Traviata, Carmen will be staged on a platform to be built at Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Construction begins next week, with Carmen spelt out in blood-red letters Hollywood-style and white searchlights raking the sky.

Carmen was a ''revolutionary thinker, far ahead of her time'', Edwards tells the assembled throng. She was ''much more'' than a femme fatale: ''She said, 'I have the right to go where I want, do what I want, and stand outside the status quo'.'' Carmen was ''fighting for things only recently achieved by women''.

Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita was Edwards's inspiration, an idea she workshopped for 18 months with set designer Brian Thomson, but is merely a clue to the show's date.

The dance choreographer Kelley Abbey tells them she is aiming for ''muscular, athletic, juicy delivery and shape''. Of more than 300 costumes across four acts, the costume designer Julie Lynch singles out the male flamenco dancers' white singlets and tight pants as a favourite. ''I enjoyed those fittings,'' she smiles.

The previous night, Opera Australia took the cast by boat to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. One of the two performers who will alternate the role of Carmen, Israel-born, New York-based Rinat Shaham - who has portrayed Carmen in 37 productions - entertained the gathering by singing the famous aria Habanera, between sips of South Australian shiraz.

The second Carmen, Milijana Nikolic, has been doing fittings for Carmen's red dress. Given Nikolic is 185 centimetres tall, that won't help Shaham, who is much shorter.

Given the ambition of four very different acts and a vintage Jaguar Mark 5 to emerge from a holding bay carrying toreador lover Escamillo, fittings should be a snap.