Georges Bizet

Carmen, opera

    Description by Rovi Staff

    The reception history of Georges Bizet's final dramatic work, Carmen, is rife with ironies. Although almost unanimously condemned by Parisian critics after its first performances in 1875 for its overt sexuality and graphic final scene, Carmen intrigued a number of sophisticated minds and ultimately reached the public in a way that perhaps no other opera has. Bizet's aim in composing Carmen had been to transform the flaccid, moralistic bourgeois genre of opéra comique into a more sophisticated type of staged work. With a libretto by Ludovic Halévy and Henri Meilhac, Carmen survives in no single authoritative version despite its enormous popularity and influence. Guiraud converted the original sections of spoken dialogue into recitative for the 1875 Vienna performances. In recent years the original version has made a striking comeback, and one can argue that it is far more telling dramatically than the traditional version with the recitatives. There is also a popular orchestral suite drawn from the opera, and several violin and piano fantasies on its themes also exist. Carmen is cornerstone item in any opera collection. It is ironic that Bizet composed one of music's most evocative landscapes of Spain without ever having been there.

    Bizet based his opéra comique on Prosper Mérimée's story, Carmen, which had appeared in October 1845. Librettists Halévy and Meilhac emphasized the exotic characters of Mérimée's story and retained the themes of social class distinctions, overt sexuality, and misogyny that emerge so forcefully in Mérimée's model. Bizet gave musical expression to the libretto using recurring motives, a distinctive melodic style, and manipulations of genre conventions to give each character a musical significance and a unique expressive idiom. The opera's prelude introduces some of the most important themes, including Escamillo's toreador music and an exotic and sinewy chromatic motive that permeates the opera as a musical symbol for both Carmen's character and the insurmountable power of fate. The gypsy fortune-teller Carmen sings in dance numbers, such as the habanera ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle") and the seguidilla ("Près des ramparts de Seville") of Act One, and the Gypsy song ("Les tringles des sisters tintaient") of Act Two. Traversing boundaries of diatonic harmony, the sultry chromaticism of Carmen's habanera theme underscores her status as both ethnic outsider and sexually adventuresome female. In this she stands in sharp contrast to Micaëla, whose Act Three aria ("Je sais que rien ne m'épouvante") is set in the ternary form of the elevated bel canto French grand opera aria. The bullfighter Escamillo announces his trade and masculine prowess in the rollicking Act Two toreador song ("Toréador, en garde!"), which carries the musical suggestion of battle in its fanfare opening and insistent march rhythm. Don José's musical styles reflect different levels in his descent from dutiful soldier to the underworld of obsession. In Act One, Don José sings in a duet with Micaëla ("Ma mère, je la vois"), adopting her elevated lyrical vocal style. In Act Two, after his imprisonment, Don José sings a more popular march-like tune ("Halte-là! Qui va là? Dragon d'Alcala"), reflecting his lower social status. His angst-ridden wailings in the opera's final scene defy clear formal arrangement and convey the psychological turmoil of an obsessed and defeated individual. Thus did Bizet forge a work that both summed up the musical resources available to him and had enough color and sheer melodic attractiveness to insinuate itself permanently into the public mind. Carmen, indeed, has been the subject of several popular-music adaptations over the years.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Prélude [Les Toréadors]
    2. No. 2, Sur la place, chacun passe
    3. No. 3, Avec la garde montante
    4. No. 4a, La Cloche a sonne, nous des ouvrieres
    5. No. 4b, La voila! Voila la Carmencita!
    6. No. 5, L'amour est un oiseau rebelle [Habanera]
    7. No. 6, Carmen! sur tes pas nous nous pressons tous
    8. No. 7, Parle-moi de ma mère!
    9. No. 8, Au secours!
    10. No. 9, Voyons, brigadier
    11. No. 10a, Près des remparts de Séville [Seguidilla]
    12. No. 10b, Voice l'orde
    13. No. 11a, Entr'acte [Les Dragons d'Alcala]
    14. No. 11b, Les tringles des sistres tintaient [Gypsy Song]
    15. No. 11c, Danse bohème
    16. No. 11d, Vous avez quelque chose
    17. No. 12a, Vivat, vivat le toréro!
    18. No. 12b, Votre toast je peux vous le rendre [Toreador's Song]
    19. No. 13, Nous avons en tete une affaire!
    20. No. 14, Halte-là! Qui va là?
    21. No. 15a, Je vais danser en votre honneur
    22. No. 15b, Au quartier! pour l'appel
    23. No. 15c, La fleur que tu ma'vais jetée [Flower Song]
    24. No. 15d, Non! tu ne ma'aimes pas!
    25. No. 16, Holà! Carmen!
    26. No. 17a, Entr'acte [Intermezzo]
    27. No. 17b, Écoute, compagnon, écoute [March of the Smugglers]
    28. No. 17c, Notre métier est bon
    29. No. 18a, Mêlons! Coupons! [Card Scene]
    30. No. 18b, Voyons, que j'essaie à mon tour
    31. No. 18c, En vain, pour éviter les réponses amères
    32. No. 19, Quant au douanier c'est notre affaire
    33. No. 20, Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante [Nocturne]
    34. No. 21, Je suis Escamillo
    35. No. 22a, Entr'acte [Aragonaise]
    36. No. 22b, À deux cuartos!
    37. No. 23, Les voici, voici la quadrille [March of the Toreadors]
    38. No. 24, Si tu m'aimes, Carmen
    39. No. 25, C'est toi!

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646994489
    2016 Erato 555529
    2016 Sony Classical 88985311342
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186216
    2013 EMI Classics
    2013 United Classics T 2CD2012062
    2012 Decca
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099944028
    2012 Urania / Urania Records 174
    2012 Bongiovanni HOC 06667
    2012 Decca 4784141
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Broken Audio BRAUR 0152
    2012 Teldec / Warner Classics 2564660575
    2012 Analekta AN 296135
    2011 Alto / Musical Concepts 2503
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Warner Classics 674169
    2011 Documents / Membran 233188
    2011 Sony Classical 88697961892
    2011 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4779336
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Urania / Urania Records DCO 33003
    2010 Decca B0014002-02
    2010 Decca B0014002-02
    2010 Berlin Classics 0300119 BC
    2010 RCA Red Seal 88697757512
    2009 RCA Red Seal 7446202
    2009 Rca Red Seal 7573672
    2009 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996671
    2009 Documents / Documents Classics / Membran 231840
    2009 Document 232595
    2009 ZYX Music 10090
    2009 IDIS 6571/72
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5673572
    2008 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4278852
    2008 Orfeo 733082
    2008 Prieser 20052
    2008 GOP Great Opera Performances 66362
    2007 BRV 9810
    2007 BRV 9802
    2007 Allegro Corporation 9903
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946395918
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 67696
    2006 Divine Art 27809
    2005 Capriccio Records 51183
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon 000402902
    2005 Andante 3100
    2005 Great Opera Performances 66327
    2005 7010
    2005 Myto Records 52101
    2005 Berlin / Berlin Classics 0032952
    2005 Myto Records MCD 053311
    2004 Urania 918
    2004 Myto Records 43088
    2003 Decca
    2003 Chandos CHAN3091
    2003 Decca 470417
    2003 Naïve 4964
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 57434
    2003 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243585505
    2003 Aura Classics 1900
    2002 Disky 703582
    2002 Phonographe 5013
    2002 DG Deutsche Grammophon 471750
    2002 Preiser Records 20016
    2002 Opera Legacies OL6007
    2002 Aura Classics 1117
    2002 EMI Classics 5753202
    2002 Opera D'Oro 1358
    2001 RCA 25279
    2001 Malibran-Music 172
    2001 Pegasus (Pinnacle) 28
    2001 Myto Records 12242
    2001 Opera D'Oro 1278
    2001 Brilliant 99544
    2000 Opera D'Oro 1244
    2000 Arkadia 78043
    2000 Marston 52022
    2000 Angel Records 67353
    2000 Gala Records 100603
    2000 Myto Records 5231
    1999 Vocal Archives 1219.20
    1999 Malibran Music 114
    1999 Marston 52019-2
    1998 RCA 39495
    1998 Opera D'Oro 1151
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56281
    1997 Arkadia 78026
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56214
    1996 Arkadia 78006
    1996 Teldec 12672
    1995 Preiser Records 90152
    1995 Laserlight 14277
    1995 Valois 4734
    1995 London 443 871-2DF2
    1994 Erato 96887
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 4454
    1994 Naxos 660005
    1994 Ultraphone
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 54368
    1991 DG Deutsche Grammophon 427440
    1990 RCA 7981
    1989 Philips 422366
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 49240
    1987 DG Deutsche Grammophon 419636
    1985 London 414489
    1984 Erato 849
    1983 DG Deutsche Grammophon 410088
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 437000
    Ultraphone 112128
    EMI Music Distribution 747313
    Great Opera Performances 727
    Opera Fanatic 1
    D Classics 70358
    RCA 6199
    Myto Records 93487
    Myto Records 946118
    Le Monde de l'Opera 01
    Music Memoria 30430
    Legato Classics 194
    Golden Age of Opera 181
    Golden Age of Opera 118
    6w 11
    Erato 45207
    Brilliant 99545
    Revelation Records 20001
    Eklipse 31
    obh 011105
    Arkadia 498