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Carmen is a four-act opera composed by Georges Bizet, a French composer of the Romantic era. The opera premiered on 3rd March 1875, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy wrote the libretto based on Prosper Mérimée’s novella with the same title. Carmen opera was one of its kind that scandalized the audience when it was first performed.
The opera deals with themes like life, love, immortality, lawlessness, etc. The death of the lead character on the stage was new in opera. The opera's plot is the story of Don José, a soldier seduced by a gypsy woman, Carmen. It is set in Seville, Spain, and depicts the downfall of the soldier as he ignores his job and childhood sweetheart for Carmen.
Background Information and History
Carmen gained popularity outside France before it became famous in the country. The initial premiere didn’t impact or enthrall the audience in France. However, many productions were performed outside the country and met with great success. This led to a revival in 1883 in France, which quickly shot to fame in the home country.
It’s unfortunate that Georges Bizet suddenly passed away after 33 performances of Carmen and wasn’t alive to see how the opera received international fame in the next decade. The opera became one of the most commonly performed classics around the world. The music was also edited and tweaked after Bizet’s death. Production companies made changes to the melodies, though the overall impression remained similar.
Carmen opera is equally famous for the harmony, melody, and orchestration to create a perfect atmosphere to match the storyline. The music takes the audience through the characters’ emotions, pain, longing, and jealousy. The orchestra has four horns, three trombones, two clarinets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, and trumpets, with one harp and strings. There’s a percussion section with a tambourine, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, timpani, triangle, and castanets. Around 57 to 62 musicians played the music for Carmen opera.
The characterization and presentation of the opera are different from the traditional opéra comique and are more on the lines of verismo style, especially for the lead characters, Carmen and Dan José.
Célestine Galli-Marié played Carmen and supported Bizet when he resisted the demands of the production company to tone down. Paul Lhérie was Dan José.