Last updated August 31, 2018.
Georges Bizet (composer)
First Performance: March 3, 1875
Peak: 18 (UK)
Quotable: A “cornerstone item in any opera collection” – All Music Guide
Carmen is “one of the most popular and frequently performed operas in the classical canon.” WK Bizet based the four-act opera on a Prosper Mérimée novella of the same name with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. WK The four-act opera is “written in the genre of opéra comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue.” WK “The music of Carmen has since been widely acclaimed for brilliance of melody, harmony, atmosphere, and orchestration, and for the skill with which Bizet musically represented the emotions and suffering of his characters.” WK
The story, set in southern Spain, documents “the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by…the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts…yet loses Carmen…to the glamorous matador Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage.” WK
Initially, Parisian critics condemned the opera “for its overt sexuality and graphic final scene.” WK However, “the depictions of proletarian life, immorality, and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial.” WK Eventually, it “intrigued a number of sophisticated minds and ultimately reached the public in a way that perhaps no other opera has.” AMG “It is ironic that Bizet composed one of music’s most evocative landscapes of Spain without ever having been there.” AMG
It was first performed on March 3, 1875 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. WK Bizet sadly died after the 33rd performance, missing the international acclaim it would achieve in the next decade.