Georges Bizet

Carmen Suite for orchestra No. 2 (assembled by Ernest Guirard)

    Description by James Reel

    Whereas the first suite drawn from Bizet's opera Carmen focused on preludes and entr'actes, the second is mostly a string of hit arias and ensemble pieces, with individual instruments filling in for the missing voices. The suite was assembled after Bizet's death by Ernest Guiraud, who also provided the opera's sung recitatives.

    The opening "Marche des contrebandiers," or "Smugglers' March," depicts the nocturnal progress of smugglers through the mountains. It was originally a chorus with a long orchestral introduction. Befitting the secretive nature of the business at hand, this is a predominantly quiet but still cocky march, full of pert woodwind solos.

    Next comes one of the opera's two most famous numbers, Carmen's teasing-seductive "Habanera," concerning the fickle nature of gypsy love. Bizet based it on a popular song by the Spanish composer Yradier. In this non-vocal form, the line is divided into long phrases and allotted to various instruments-usually solo woodwinds, but also trumpet, and at some points the violin sections.

    The long Nocturne is actually Micaëla's aria from Act 3. Here the long, flowing, yearning melody is taken mainly by the solo viola (solo horn in some versions), although it becomes violin property when it begins to soar halfway through the piece.

    The "Chanson du toréador" is the opera's greatest hit, although Bizet was ashamed of it and denigrated it as "trash." Here, the torero ("toréador" is a French fabrication) enters in the form of a solo trumpet to tell his bullfight story through dramatic verses as well as the famous marching chorus.

    "La Garde montante" is the Act 1 children's chorus, in which kids tag along at the changing of the guard. Thus, the piece begins with militaristic fanfares in the brass, but quickly is taken over by a whimsical piccolo march. Clarinets and violins also fill in for the children's voices as the piece progresses. Oddly, although the "Habanera" and "Toreador Song" are slightly truncated, every last scrap of the children's march is included in this suite.

    The final movement is Act 2's "Danse bohème," an energetic gypsy dance that begins softly and builds a terraced crescendo verse by verse, ending in a crash of cymbals and tangle of triangles. In the opera, this piece often begins slowly to accommodate ungainly sopranos, but in orchestral form it usually starts fast and accelerates as it gets louder. As usual, the vocal part is distributed among various instruments; generally Carmen's solos are given to individual woodwinds or trumpet, and the choral portions are filled in by the string section.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Marche des contrabandiers
    2. Habañera
    3. Nocturne
    4. Chanson du toréador
    5. La garde montant
    6. Danse Bohème

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2015 K-Tel 136152
    2014 Warner Classics 634110
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099992827
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94404
    2012 Alto 1198
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2011 Red Bus Classical RCLAS 041
    2011 Decca
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Cascavelle 3103
    2010 AAO Music
    2010 DA Records / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Royal Philharmonic Masterworks 28020
    2009 Denon Records 00795041941862
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93842
    2009 Delta / Zebralution
    2009 Delta / Zebralution
    2008 Decca 4664212
    2008 Decca 475190
    2008 Elite Special / Zebralution
    2008 Delta Distribution 13503
    2008 Music Brokers 9633
    2007 Arte Nova 433220
    2007 Amado Classics 4000
    2006 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 41428
    2006 St. Clair 5092/20
    2005 Delta Distribution 16397
    2004 High Definition Classics 057
    2004 St. Clair 31242
    2003 RPO 204402
    2003 Delta Distribution 40032
    2003 Madacy 4791
    2003 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 40044
    2002 Brilliant 99786
    2001 Forlane 16533
    2001 St. Clair 7364
    2000 Amadis 7073
    2000 Laserlight 15813
    2000 Onyx Classix 1917
    1999 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 507
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 3859
    1999 Madacy 4772
    1998 Intersound 2802
    1998 United Audio Entertainment 6504
    1997 Naxos 8 556671
    1997 Arte Nova 74321 43322-2
    1997 Point Classics 265065
    1995 Madacy Distribution / GMS Records / Madacy LPC-7610
    1995 Sony Classical 69289
    1995 Laserlight 55008
    1995 ZYX Music 4019
    1994 Madacy 1031
    1994 ASV 6133
    1994 Philips 442 128-2PH
    1994 Philips 442272
    1994 Madacy 9118
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48159
    1992 Naxos 550061
    1989 Laserlight 15614
    Stradivari 6026
    Pro-Arte Records 852
    Quintessence 2052
    Chandos 6600
    Onyx Classix 66122
    P & S Records 7
    Masters of the Millennium 2017
    Lydian 18073
    Pilz 140219
    Laserlight 35607
    Vox 8765
    RCA 61722
    Amado Classics 04005
    RPM 6
    IMP Classics 1075
    ZYX Classic 4019