Carmen

Carmen drinks, smokes and gets what she wants. But her wandering, gypsy spirit will ultimately prove her undoing. When she chooses bullfighter Escamillo over Don Jose, she meets her tragic demise.

But, she’s hardly tragic. She would rather live fully – even dangerously – than play it safe. Even in death, Carmen is a feminist heroine for the ages.

Synopsis

Opera comique in four acts by Georges Bizet to a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy after Prosper Merimee’s novel of the same name. Premiered in Paris on March 3, 1875 at the Opera-Comique (Salle Favart).

The opera takes place in and around Seville, c. 1830.

ACT I

In a public square in front of a tobacco factory, soldiers watch the passers-by. Among them is Micaëla, a peasant girl, who is looking for an officer named Don José. Moralès, a corporal, tells her that he will arrive soon with the changing of the guard. The soldiers flirt with Micaëla, but she runs away. The relief guard approaches, headed by Lieutenant Zuniga, and José learns from Moralès that a girl has been looking for him. When the factory bell rings, the men of Seville gather to watch the women workers return from their lunch break—especially their favorite, the gypsy Carmen. She tells her admirers that love obeys no rules. Only one man pays no attention to her: Don José. Provacatively, Carmen throws a flower at him, and the women go back into the factory.

José picks up the flower. Micaëla returns, bringing a letter—and a kiss—from José’s mother. When he starts to read the letter, Micaëla leaves him alone. He is about to throw away the flower when a fight erupts inside the factory between Carmen and another girl. Zuniga sends José to retrieve the gypsy. Carmen refuses to answer Zuniga’s questions, and José is ordered to take her to prison. Left alone with him, she seduces him with visions of a rendezvous at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. Mesmerized, José agrees to let her escape. As they leave for prison, Carmen slips away and Don José is arrested.

ACT II

Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès entertain the guests at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. Zuniga tells Carmen that José has just been released from prison. The bullfighter Escamillo enters and boasts about the pleasures of his profession, in particular those relating to the ladies. He flirts with Carmen, but she coyly puts him off. When the tavern guests leave with Escamillo, the
smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado explain their latest schemes to the women. Frasquita and Mercédès are willing to help, but Carmen refuses to join them because she is in love. José is heard singing in the distance, and the smugglers withdraw. Carmen arouses José’s jealousy by mentioning that she has been dancing with Zuniga. He declares his love, but when bugles are heard, he says he must return to the barracks. Carmen mocks him, claiming that he doesn’t love her. To prove her wrong, he shows her the flower she threw at him and confesses how its fading scent sustained his love during the weeks in prison. She is unimpressed: if he really loved her, he would desert the army and join her in a life of freedom in the mountains. José refuses, and Carmen tells him to leave. Zuniga bursts in, and in a jealous rage José draws his sword. The smugglers return and disarm Zuniga. José now has no choice but to desert and join them.

ACT III

The smugglers take a rest at their mountain hideaway. Carmen and José quarrel. She admits that her love is fading and advises him to return to live with his mother. When the women turn cards to tell their fortunes, Frasquita and Mercédès foresee love and fortune for themselves, but Carmen’s cards spell death—for her and for José. As the smugglers set off for the city, a frightened Micaëla appears. A shot rings out, and she hides. José has fired at an intruder, who turns out to be Escamillo. He tells José that he has come to find Carmen and mentions her former lover, a soldier who deserted to be with her. José identifies himself, and the two men fight. The returning smugglers separate them, and Escamillo invites everyone, Carmen in particular, to his next bullfight in Seville. Escamillo leaves, and Micaëla emerges. She begs José to return home. He agrees only when he learns that his mother is dying. Assuring Carmen that they will meet again, he leaves with Micaëla.

 

ACT IV

Seville. The crowd cheers the bullfighters as they enter the arena. Carmen arrives on Escamillo’s arm, and Frasquita and Mercédès warn her that José is present in the crowd. She tells them that she is not afraid and waits while a crowd enters the arena. José appears and begs Carmen to forget the past and start a new life with him, but she calmly tells him that their affair is over and moves towards the entrance. When José tries to block her way, she finally loses her temper and throws the ring that José gave her at his feet. José stabs her to death and surrenders to the gathering crowd.

POPera Facts

Carmen has been called the most famous opera of all time. You’ll recognize the music even if you’ve never seen the opera.

  • One of Carmen’s most famous melodies, “Habanera,” has been used in Sesame Street; the 2007 movie Wild Hogs; the 2008 movie Fool’s Gold; the 1996 film Trainspotting; and in the “wake-up” scene in the Disney/Pixar film Up.
  • The same tune has also been used to sell snacks (a Doritos commercial aired during the 2007 Super Bowl) and pasta sauce (Bertolli’s).
  • Before she was one of the world’s best-known icons, Beyoncé starred in a 2001 musical film adaptation of Carmen. MTV produced Carmen: A Hip Hopera in what was Beyoncé’s acting debut.

About the Composer

Georges Bizet

(1838 – 1875)

Georges Bizet was born into a musical family in Paris. His mother was an accomplished pianist, and her brother was a distinguished singer and teacher who performed at the courts of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III.

He began studying music at the Conservatoire as a nine-year- old boy, even though the minimum entry age was 10. He won the Conservatoire’s second prize for piano in 1851 and first prize the
following year. He entered the 1857 Prix de Rome and was awarded a prize that included a grant for a five-year course of study.

In 1863, Bizet received an offer to compose the music for a three-act opera at Thëâtre Lyrique. This would become Les pécheurs de perles, which was panned by critics and received a tepid
response from the public.

For the next decade, Bizet had intermittent success, but none substantial enough to earn him a lasting legacy. But in 1874, he began work on what would become his greatest achievement – Carmen.

When rehearsals began at the Opéra-Comique in 1874, the orchestra and chorus declared some of the music impossible to play and sing. Chorus members balked at having to smoke and fight onstage. Bizet had to counter attempts by management to modify sections they deemed improper. Only when the principal singers threatened to quit did management give way.

When Carmen opened, much of the press reaction was negative due to the title character being a something of a seductress. Even Bizet, who had at first felt he had written something of enduring value, became convinced of its failure.

For most of his life, Bizet suffered from recurring throat problems. A heavy smoker, he may have further compromised his health by overwork (up to 16-hour days!) during the mid-1860s. Depressed by the (temporary) failure of Carmen, Bizet was slow to recover from a bout of throat trouble in 1875. He suffered an apparent heart attack and died that June at age 36.

News of his sudden death stunned Paris’s musical world. More than 4,000 people attended his funeral. After a special performance of Carmen at the Opéra-Comique that night, the press – so dismissive three months earlier – declared Bizet a master.

Production

Jeffrey Buchman

DIRECTOR

James Meena

CONDUCTOR

Rosa Mercedes

Choreographer

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