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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2018
    Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    4798418
    2017
    Calliope
    CAL 1742
    2016
    Warner Classics
    0825646994489
    2016
    Erato
    555529
    2016
    Sony Classical
    88985311342
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795448
    2015
    PentaTone Classics
    PTC 5186216
    2013
    United Classics
    T 2CD2012062
    2013
    EMI Classics
    2012
    Bongiovanni
    HOC 06667
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099944028
    2012
    Decca
    4784141
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Warner Classics
    2012
    Urania / Urania Records
    174
    2012
    Broken Audio
    BRAUR 0152
    2012
    Teldec / Warner Classics
    2564660575
    2012
    Various Artists
    Analekta
    AN 296135
    2011
    EMI Classics
    2011
    Documents / Membran
    233188
    2011
    Warner Classics
    674169
    2011
    Alto / Musical Concepts
    2503
    2011
    Sony Classical
    88697961892
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4779336
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Decca
    B0014002-02
    2010
    Urania / Urania Records
    DCO 33003
    2010
    Decca
    B0014002-02
    2010
    Berlin Classics
    0300119 BC
    2010
    RCA Red Seal
    88697757512
    2009
    RCA Red Seal
    7446202
    2009
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    5099996671
    2009
    RCA Red Seal
    7573672
    2009
    Documents / Documents Classics / Membran
    231840
    2009
    Document
    232595
    2009
    IDIS
    6571/72
    2009
    ZYX Music
    10090
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4278852
    2008
    Orfeo
    733082
    2008
    EMI Music Distribution
    5673572
    2008
    EMI Classics
    826682
    2008
    Prieser
    20052
    2008
    GOP Great Opera Performances
    66362
    2007
    BRV
    9810
    2007
    Various Artists
    BRV
    9802
    2007
    Allegro Corporation
    9903
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    0946395918
    2006
    Divine Art
    27809
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    67696
    2005
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000402902
    2005
    Andante
    3100
    2005
    Capriccio Records
    51183
    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
    Naïve
    4964
    2003
    Decca
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    57434
    2003
    Decca
    470417
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243585505
    2003
    Chandos
    CHAN3091
    2003
    Aura Classics
    1900
    2002
    EMI Classics
    5753202
    2002
    Disky
    703582
    2002
    Aura Classics
    1117
    2002
    Deutsche Grammophon
    471750
    2002
    Phonographe
    5013
    2002
    Preiser Records
    20016
    2002
    Opera Legacies
    OL6007
    2002
    Opera D'Oro
    1358
    2001
    Malibran-Music
    172
    2001
    Myto Records
    12242
    2001
    RCA
    25279
    2001
    Pegasus (Pinnacle)
    28
    2001
    Opera D'Oro
    1278
    2001
    Brilliant
    99544
    2000
    Angel Records
    67353
    2000
    Arkadia
    78043
    2000
    Opera D'Oro
    1244
    2000
    Gala Records
    100603
    2000
    Marston
    52022
    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
    Arkadia
    78026
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    56214
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    56281
    1996
    Arkadia
    78006
    1996
    Teldec
    12672
    1995
    Preiser Records
    90152
    1995
    Valois
    4734
    1995
    London
    443 871-2DF2
    1995
    Laserlight
    14277
    1994
    Erato
    96887
    1994
    EMI Music Distribution
    4454
    1994
    Naxos
    660005
    1994
    Ultraphone
    1992
    EMI Music Distribution
    54368
    1991
    Deutsche Grammophon
    427440
    1990
    RCA
    7981
    1989
    Philips
    422366
    1988
    EMI Music Distribution
    49240
    1987
    Deutsche Grammophon
    419636
    1985
    London
    414489
    1984
    Erato
    849
    1983
    Deutsche Grammophon
    410088
    Deutsche Grammophon
    437000
    Ultraphone
    112128
    RCA
    6199
    Myto Records
    93487
    D Classics
    70358
    Myto Records
    946118
    Opera Fanatic
    1
    Music Memoria
    30430
    Golden Age of Opera
    118
    Golden Age of Opera
    181
    Brilliant
    99545
    Erato
    45207
    Legato Classics
    194
    6w
    11
    EMI Music Distribution
    747313
    Le Monde de l'Opera
    01
    Great Opera Performances
    727
    Revelation Records
    20001
    Eklipse
    31
    obh
    011105
    Arkadia
    498