George Bizet – Carmen
About the Opera:
Carmen is a French opéra comique by Georges Bizet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845,itself influenced by the narrative poem “The Gypsies” (1824) by Pushkin. Mérimée had read the poem in Russian by 1840 and translated it into French in 1852.The opera premiered at the Opéra Comique of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority ofcritics. It was almost withdrawn after its fourth or fifth performance, and although this was avoided, ultimately having 48 performances in the first year, it did little to bolster sagging receipts at the Opéra Comique. Near the end of this run, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance. Bizet died on 3 June 1875, never knowing how popular Carmen would become. In October 1875 it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity. It was not staged again at the Opéra Comique until 1883. Bizet’s final opera not only transformed the opera-comique genre that had been static for half a century, it virtually killed it. Within a few years, the traditional distinction between opera (serious, heroic and declamatory) and opera-comique (light-hearted, bourgeois and conversational with spoken dialogue) disappeared. Moreover, Carmen nourished a movement that was to win both celebrity and notoriety first in Italy and then elsewhere: the cult of realism known as verismo. The early death of Bizet and the negligence of his immediate heirs and publisher led, as with most of Bizet’s operas, to major textual problems for which scholars and performers only began to find solutions since the 1960s.
A square in Seville. On the right a cigarette factory, on the left a guard house, with a bridge at the back. Moralès and the soldiers are on guard, (“Sur la place, chacun passe”). Micaëla appears seeking Don José, a corporal, but is told by Moralès that he is not yet on duty, so why does not she stay and wait with them? She runs away saying that she will return later. Zuniga and José arrive with the new guard, imitated by a crowd of street-children (“Avec la garde montante”). A bell sounds and the cigarette girls emerge from the factory, greeted by young men who have gathered (“La cloche a sonné”). Finally Carmen appears, and all the men ask her when she will love them (“Quand je vous aimerai?”). She replies that she loves the man who does not love her in the famous Habanera (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”). When they plead for her to choose a lover from among them, (“Carmen! sur tes pas, nous nous pressons tous!”) she tears a bunch of cassia from her bodice and throws it at Don José, who has been ignoring her, before going back into the factory with the others. José is annoyed by her insolence. Micaëla returns and gives him a letter – and a kiss – from his mother (“Parle-moi de ma mère!”). José longingly thinks of his home, and reading the letter sees that his mother wants him to return and get married. Micaëla is embarrassed and leaves, but Don José declares that he will marry her. As soon as she leaves, screams are heard from the factory and the women run out, singing chaotically (“Au secours! Au secours!”). Don José and Zuniga find that Carmen has been fighting with another woman, and slashed her face with a knife. Zuniga asks Carmen if she has anything to say, but she replies impudently with a song (“Tra la la”). Zuniga instructs José to guard her while he writes out the warrant for prison. The women go back into the factory and the soldiers to the guardhouse. To escape, Carmen seduces José with a Seguidilla (“Près des remparts de Séville”) about an evening she will spend with her next lover who is “only a corporal”; José gives in and unties her hands. Zuniga returns, and Carmen allows herself to be led away but turns, pushes José to the ground, and as laughing cigarette girls surround Zuniga, she escapes.
Evening at Lillas Pastia’s inn, tables scattered around; officers and gypsies relaxing after dinner. It is two months later. Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès sing and dance (“Les tringles des sistres tintaient”). Lillas Pastia is trying to get rid of the officers, so Zuniga invites Carmen and her friends to come with him to the theatre, but she can only think of José, who was demoted and has been in jail since letting her escape, and was released the day before. The sound of a procession hailing Escamillo passes by outside, and the toreador is invited in (“Vivat, vivat le Toréro”). Escamillo sings the Toreador song (“Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre”), and flirts with Carmen, but Carmen tells him that for the time being he need not dream of being hers. When everyone except Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès have left, the smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive and tell the girls of their plans to dispose of the contraband they have smuggled via Gibraltar (Quintet: “Nous avons en tête une affaire”). Carmen refuses to accompany them, saying to their amazement that she is in love. As José’s voice is heard (“Halte là!”), Dancaïre tells Carmen she must try to get Don José to join them. Alone together, José returns a gold coin Carmen had sent him in jail and she orders fruit and wine to be brought. Carmen vexes him with stories of her dancing for the officers but then dances with castanets for him alone (“Je vais danser en votre honneur…Lalala”). During her song the sound of bugles is heard calling the soldiers back to barracks. Carmen’s temper flares when José says he must leave, but he makes her listen by producing the flower she threw at him, which he kept while he was in prison and is proof of his love (the Flower Song – “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”). Carmen is unmoved and asks him to join her gipsy life if he really loves her (“Non, tu ne m’aime pas”). Her picture of a life of freedom tempts him but he finally refuses saying he will never be a deserter. He begins to leave when Zuniga enters hoping to find Carmen. Don José draws his sword on his superior officer, but before they can fight the smugglers burst in and disarm both of them. Zuniga is made a prisoner (“Bel officier”) and José has no alternative but to flee with Carmen (“Suis-nous à travers la campagne”).
A wild and deserted rocky place at night. The smugglers along with Carmen and José are travelling with the contraband (“Écoute, écoute, compagnons”), but Carmen has tired of José, and does not conceal this, taunting him to return to his village. Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès read the cards (“Mêlons! Coupons!”): Frasquita and Mercédès foresee love and romance, wealth and luxury; but Carmen’s cards foretell death for both her and José (“En vain pour éviter les réponses amères”). The smugglers ask the girls to come and charm the customs officers (“Quant au douanier, c’est notre affaire”) and everyone goes off, leaving the jealous José to guard the goods. Micaëla arrives with a guide seeking José. She sends the guide away and vows to take Don José away from Carmen (“Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”). She sees José firing a gun, and hides in the rocks. It was Escamillo whom José had fired at, but when he arrives José welcomes him, until he says he is infatuated with Carmen and tells José the story of her affair with a soldier, not realising José is that soldier. José challenges Escamillo to a knife-fight, but Escamillo fights defensively, infuriating José. They start again and José finds himself at the mercy of Escamillo who releases him, saying his trade is killing bulls, not men. The third time they fight Escamillo’s knife breaks, but he is saved by the return of the smugglers and Carmen (“Holà, holà José”). Escamillo leaves, but invites Carmen and the smugglers to his next bullfight in Seville. Remendado finds Micaëla hiding, and she tells José that his mother wishes to see him. Carmen mocks him and at first he refuses to go (“Non, je ne partirai pas!”), until Micaëla tells him that his mother is dying. Vowing that he will return to Carmen, he goes. As he is leaving, Escamillo is heard singing in the distance. Carmen rushes to the sound of his voice, but José bars her way.
A square in front of the arena at Seville: the day of a bull-fight; bustling activity. It is the day of the contest to which Escamillo invited the smugglers. The square is full of people, with merchants and gipsies selling their wares (“À deux cuartos!”). Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among the crowd and the girls tell Zuniga that Carmen is now with Escamillo. The crowd and children sing and cheer on the procession as the cuadrilla arrive (“Les voici! voici la quadrille”). Carmen and Escamillo are greeted by the crowds and express their love, Carmen adding that she had never loved one so much (“Si tu m’aimes, Carmen”). After Escamillo has gone into the fight, Frasquita warns Carmen that José is in the crowd (“Carmen! Prends garde!), but Carmen scorns their fears. Before she can enter the arena she is confronted by the desperate José (“C’est toi! C’est moi!”). He begs her to return his love and start a new life with him far away. She calmly replies that she loves him no longer and will not give way – free she was born and free she will die. Cheers are heard from the bull-ring and Carmen tries to enter, but José bars her way. He asks her one last time to come back, but she scornfully throws back the ring that he gave to her (“Cette bague, autrefois”). He stabs her (“Eh bien, damnée”) and as Escamillo is acclaimed in the arena she dies. DonJosé kneels in despair beside her. The spectators flock out of the arena and find José (“Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée!”), confessing his guilt over her dead body.
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