September 13. 2013.
Carmen, composed by French composer Georges Bizet, based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, is one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory. The opera, written in the genre of opera comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue, tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery Gypsy, Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen’s love to the glamorous toreador Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic outcome in which the main character dies on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial.
The music of Carmen has been widely acclaimed for its brilliance of melody, harmony, atmosphere and orchestration, and for the skill with which Bizet represented, musically, the emotions and suffering of his characters. After the composer’s death the score was subject to significant amendment, including the introduction of recitative in place of the original dialogue; there is no standard edition of the opera, and differences of view exist as to what versions best express Bizet’s intentions.
It was Bizet who first proposed an adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen. Mérimée’s story is a blend of travelogue and adventure yarn, probably inspired by the writer’s lengthy travels in Spain in 1830, and had originally been published in 1845 in the journal Revue des deux Mondes. It may have been influenced in part by Alexander Pushkin’s 1824 poem “The Gypsies”, a work Mérimée had translated into French.
Georges Bizet (1838-1875) was a French composer, mainly of operas. In a career cut short by his early death, he achieved few successes. His two operas that reached the stage—Les pêcheurs de perles and La jolie fille de Perth—were immediately successful, but his final work, Carmen, became one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory only after his death. The production of Carmen was delayed through fears that its themes of betrayal and murder would offend audiences. After its premiere on 3 March 1875, Bizet was convinced that the work was a failure; he died of a heart attack three months later, unaware that it would prove a spectacular and enduring success. After years of neglect, his works began to be performed more frequently in the 20th century. Later commentators have acclaimed him as a composer of brilliance and originality whose premature death was a significant loss to French musical theatre.
Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870) was a French dramatist, historian, archaeologist, and short story writer. He is perhaps best known for his novella Carmen, which became the basis of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Prosper Mérimée was born in Paris. He studied law as well as Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian. He was the first translator of much Russian literature in France.
Mérimée loved mysticism, history, the unusual, and mystification (in the latter he was influenced by Charles Nodier), the historical fiction popularised by Sir Walter Scott and the cruelty and psychological drama of Aleksandr Pushkin. Many of his stories are mysteries set in foreign places, Spain and Russia being popular sources of inspiration.
Opera Lyra Ottawa’s production of Carmen on September 14, 2013 NAC – Southam Hall.