Carmen, Opera by G. Bizet
Georges Bizet passed away before his greatest opera, Carmen, gained the critical appeal it so rightfully deserved. Puritan and conservative Paris was not ready for the lurid and graphic violence and sexual charge of the debut performance at the Opera Comique on 3 March 1875. Shining a light on the outcasts of society and turning away from the safety of telling the stories of the upper classes only earned Bizet some of his worst critical press. However, Carmen has persevered and proven itself a landmark in the opera catalogue. The performance at Teatro Costanzi in Rome is yet another confirmation of this fact.
At the time he started work on the opera, Bizet was tired of the stiff conventions of the genre. To deliver a shock to the system, he chose the novel by Prosper Mérimée, also titled simply Carmen, for librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy to adapt for the musical theatre stage. Full of melodrama and not shy to show the vagabonds, thieves and outlaws at the bottom rungs of the socials ladder, the piece was bound to stir a furore.
The leading role, Carmen, instantly became one of opera’s most magnetic and emblematic female protagonists. Driven by a carpe diem life philosophy and not bound by legal or moral codes, she uses her charms to get through life one day at a time and take from it what she pleases. Along the way, she wrecks the professional and personal life of the soldier Don José, who ends his engagement and forgets his army duties just to pursue her. When the bullfighter Escamillo enters the picture, the conflict comes to a shocking apex.
Bizet’s impressive mastery of international musical idioms seamlessly transports audiences to Seville of the 1820’s. Carmen’s score is full of Spanish folklore motifs, and the arias and duets are one masterpiece in characterization after the other. The anti-heroine’s popular habanera and Escamillo’s bravado-filled aria are merely two famous parts of an overall fantastic opera experience.