Carmen is an operatic wonder, combining the haunting story of a gypsy femme fatale with the most melodic and catchy music ever written for opera. The mystique and sensuality of the Spanish gypsy culture bears a sharp contrast to the regimented style of the military men who come into contact with it and the way this is musically expressed makes the opera a masterpiece. Carmen is based on Merimee’s novella, which is, in turn, a translation and reinterpretation of Alexander Pushkin’s famous narrative poem “The Gypsies.Carmen is a composition of Georges Bizet, a nineteenth century French musician, who did not live to see the opera’s success. Fragments and arias from the opera enjoy a widespread appeal even today. The music is richly layered and encapsulates the drama of the wayward gypsy Carmen. It is charged with the wild, unrestrained, even dangerous nature of the protagonist whose fire burns every thing it touches.
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The libretti for Carmen was written by Ludovic Halevy and Henro Meilhac and in 1875 Carmen saw its first production. It opened in Paris’s Opera-Comique and ran for a few months without garnering popular or critical acclaim. Bizet died the same year at age thirty-six, never knowing that this work would one day get the recognition it deserves. When it premiered in Vienna towards the end of the same year, the response was incredible— audiences went berserk and critics wrote rave reviews. Carmen has become one of the most loved and the most frequently performed operas since then. It stands at number four on North America’s list of the operas most performed in the continent.
The opera is set in Seville, where Carmen works at a tobacco factory. As the opera begins, Carmen’s character is first revealed when the young soldiers on duty near the factory flirt with Carmen and the other girls who are leaving after the day’s work. This situation is the opening of one of the most popular songs in the history of opera "L’amour est un oiseau rebella," also known as the "Habanera." The song could be said to be the essence of Carmen’s story. In the song, Carmen calls love a free spirited gypsy child, headstrong and rebellious. Carmen’s victim, the love-struck Don Jose is so taken with Carmen’s seductive charm that he neglects all his vows and duties—to his mother, to Micaela, his fiancé in the village and finally to the military in which he is enlisted. Once Don Jose is completely under her spell, Carmen rejects him for a toreador. The story ends in tragedy.
Carmen’s music has a romantic sweep like no other. It portrays a lofty world, imbued with the fearless pursuit of passion. The flip side of this, is the disastrous taste of the forbidden, the vicious circle of temptation which becomes a way to self-destroy. Carmen the opera has never failed to impress the audience and tickets for Carmen the Opera are a hot commodity almost everywhere it has been performed.
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