Passion and betrayal reign in ‘Carmen’

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

Georges Bizets opera, "Carmen" is one of the best loved operas of all time.

It is a French opera that is based on the novel by the same name, written by Prosper Mrime.

The opera premiered in Paris in March of 1875, to a critical denouncement by the majority of theatre goers. The opposition to the work was based on the fact that many considered the opera to be a touch scandalous. Bizet died of a heart attack in June of 1875 at the age of 36, never knowing how popular Carmen would become.

This opera broke new dramatic ground by moving French opera away from opera buffa (comic opera) towards a more profound and tragic story. The final work of Bizet transformed the opera comique (light-hearted, bourgeois and conversational) genre that had been static for half a century. Moreover, Carmen nourished a movement that was to win notoriety everywhere with its cult of realism known as verismo. In October 1875 it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity.

The story in four acts is set in Sevilla, Spain circa.1830. The story revolves around a beautiful gypsy girl (Carmen) with a tempestous temper. Free with her love, she woos a corporal (Don Jos), an inexperienced soldier. Their relationship leads to his rejection of his former love (Michaela). His jealousy turns lethal when Carmen rejects him for the bullfighter (Escamillo).

What makes this opera so memorable is the character of Carmen. She is ruthless, seductive, resourceful and fickle-tempered with examples of humanity. An extremely complex and multifaceted character, she is simultaneously repellently wicked and sympathetically admirable, an uncommon mix for an operatic heroine.

In Bizet, Carmen is heralded by some of operas most powerful music, causing her to be noticeably at the center of attention. This introduction emphasizes her mystical power over seemingly everyone she meets. Bizets music is far removed from the stylistic traditions of classical opera.

One might say that it anticipated the gritty story telling of the 20th centurys film and TV media. The music of Carmen is full of exciting rhythms and orchestral colours that bring passion, pageantry and grandure to the stage as you can see below.

Carmen Ileana Roman writes a monthly column for

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