Opera in 4 Acts | Composer: Georges Bizet | Librettist: Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halevy
Original Story: Prosper Mérimée
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Language: French| Surtitle: Chinese / English
At a square in Seville, where a cigarette factory and a military guardhouse are situated, Micaëla is looking for her sweetheart Don José. The change of guards takes place. The new guard is supervised by lieutenant Zuniga with corporal Don José in assistance. The cigarette girls come out for a break. Carmen is among them. She sings a song in habanera rhythm and teases her numerous admirers. Incited by José indifference, Carmen throws him a flower. Micaëla finds José and delivers a letter and a kiss from his mother. Soon after Micaëla has left, screams from the factory are heard. Carmen is involved in a fight and has wounded another girl with a knife. Zuniga has her arrested and put in José’s charge. Singing the seguidilla, she lures José into letting her escape. For that, the corporal is sent to prison.
At the tavern of Lillas Pastias, Carmen and her friends entertain Zuniga and the soldiers. The famous bullfighter Escamillo arrives. He sings the toreador’s song and leads his followers away for further celebrations. Carmen and the gypsy smugglers discuss a plan to distract the soldiers while they carry out their next job. They are interrupted by the arrival of José who has just been released from jail. Carmen entices him not to return to the solders’ camp. José confesses his love for Carmen, but refuses to desert his service. Zuniga returns hoping to spend the night with Carmen. José fights him away. José has no choice but to join the smugglers.
In the mountains, the smugglers prepare for the delivery of their contraband goods. José now realizes the fickleness of Carmen’s character. Carmen and her gypsy friends play cards to tell their own fortune. She repeatedly turns up the death card. When José learns that the bullfighter Escamillo has come to meet Carmen, he engages him in a fight, which is stopped by Carmen and the gypsies. Escamillo invites them all to see his next bullfight. Micaëla appears and tells José that his mother is dying. José agrees to go home, but warns Carmen that he will return to be with her forever.
Outside the bullring, the crowd welcomes the bullfight procession with great excitement. Escamillo and Carmen exchange promises of love. Carmen knows José is waiting and she confronts him defiantly. She tells him she no longer loves him and is determined to leave him. She takes off the ring which José gave her and throws it away. As the crowd cheers for Escamillo’s victory inside the bullring, José cries over the body of Carmen, whom he has stabbed to death.
(1) 16/12, 7:45PM | (2) 17/12, 7:45PM | (3) 18/12, 2:45PM | (4) 18/12, 7:45PM
* By kind permission of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Bizet and Carmen
Georges Bizet (1838-1875) was born in Paris. He showed signs of remarkable talent from an early age and was exceptionally gifted at the piano. Admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of 10, he won numerous prizes and, at the age of 19, took the Prix de Rome with the highest honours.
From 1860 to 70, Bizet had to earn his living by doing an enormous amount of hackwork. Despite difficult circumstances, Bizet had his fair share of opportunities, both in the concert hall and the opera house. He was 28 when his first important opera The Pearl Fishers was produced at the Theatre Lyrique. The Fair Maid of Perth followed at the same theatre four years later. The Opéra-Comique opened its doors to him in 1872 with a production of his one-act Djamileh.
For the next Opéra-Comique project, Bizet decided on the subject himself: Prosper Mérimée’s novel Carmen (written in 1845). Once he started work on it, the story and its central characters took complete possession of his imagination. With great skill the two librettists compressed the events of the novel, extended the range of characters, enriched the plot with action, heightened the conflict between the principal protagonists and provided a clear narrative flow. Bizet himself contributed in no small measure to the dramatic adaptation. As a result, Carmen emerges as one of the most fascinating characters in the entire operatic literature. José’s moral disintegration is most movingly portrayed.
The opera was completed in the summer of 1874. Its 1,200 pages of full score had been orchestrated within two months. Bizet was pleased with the result. Rehearsals began in the autumn and immediately met with difficulties. The subject and its treatment were considered too offensive and shocking for decent family spectators of high society. The music was thought to be too unconventional and too difficult for the audience. In short, the composer and authors were far too advance for their time.
After considerable argument, persuasion and compromise, the first performance took place on 3 March 1875. With a few lukewarm exceptions, the newspaper critics attacked Bizet for being dull, obscure, uninventive and lacking in inspiration and sincerity. Bizet was deeply depressed. He had been ill for some time due to exhaustion in preparing the production. The deterioration of his health and spirit led to a final acute angina attack. He died on 3 June 1875, three months after the first performance of his masterpiece. He was not yet 37 years old.
Carmen ran for 45 performances at the Opéra-Comique. The day before the composer died, he signed an agreement with the Vienna Opera for a production there which opened on 23 October 1875. It was this production that paved the way for Carmen’s world-wide success. Vienna was followed by Brussels, London, New York, St. Peterburg, Marseilles, Lyon, Barcelona and many other cities. By 1878, Carmen had swept the entire western world and has since remained one of the half-dozen most popular operas ever written.