The fiery gypsy Carmen and the naive soldier Don José fall in love. She leaves him for the bullfighter Escamillo. Driven by jealousy, Don José stabs her to death.
Corporal José becomes enamoured of the charismatic Carmen, a gypsy girl. He decides to help her escape from justice and in turn, he himself is imprisoned. When he meets her again he is involved in a fight with a rival, a superior officer, and cannot return to his regiment. Instead he joins a band of smugglers where Carmen also is a member. The toreador Escamillo turns up as a new rival, and Carmen leaves Don José for the bullfighter.
In the last act Carmen and Don José meet outside the bullfight arena where Escamillo is fighting a bull. Don José pleads with Carmen to return to him, but she refuses and he stabs her to death at the same moment as Escamillo kills the bull.
Opera in 4 acts
Sung in French
About 2 hours 45 min + intervals
A square in Seville. On the right, a door to a tobacco factory. On the left, a guardhouse.
Outside the guardhouse a group of soldiers are waiting to be relieved. In the meantime they look at the people passing by. A young girl approaches slowly. Corporal Morales asks who she is looking for and she mentions José. “He isn’t here at the moment, he belongs to another company. But he will soon be here, when it’s time for the changing of the guards. So please come in and wait with us”, says Morales. But the girl declines and leaves.
Very soon military music is heard and the new guards come marching, followed by a group of street-urchins who imitate the soldiers. The changing of the guards is carried through and Morales informs José that a girl had asked for him. “It must be Micaëla”, says José.
The factory bell rings and the cigarette-girls stream out. Young men have gathered to see the ravishing gipsy-girl Carmen, and she is met with cheers when she appears. She sings the habanera where the text describes love as a rebellious bird. Several young men begs her to take them as her lover, but Carmen instead pays attention to José, who is standing a bit aside, and throws a rose to him. He is annoyed but keeps the rose and hides it. The break is over and the girls go back to the factory.
Micaëla returns and gives José a letter from his mother. She wants him to return home and marry Micaëla. Micaëla leaves while José contemplates his mother’s words. At that moment shouts are heard from the factory and the women come rushing out. Lieutenant Zuniga, who is in command of the guard, learns that there has been a fight and that Carmen has injured another woman with a knife.
Carmen is caught and pinioned and José is ordered to guard her and take her to the prison. While Zuniga writes the warrant, Carmen manages to enchant José and he agrees to let her hands free. When they proceed towards the prison, Carmen suddenly pushes him to the ground and runs away. José is arrested.
Lillas Pastia’s inn, the outskirts of Seville
Two months have passed and Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercedes dance and sing to entertain the guests. Among them is Lieutenant Zuniga, who tells Carmen that José now has served his sentence in prison after he let Carmen escape.
Outside a procession arrives with Escamillo, the toreador, at the head. He is invited to enter, sings his toreador song and makes a pass at Carmen, who turns him away. Escamillo continues his journey and Lillas Pastia announces that the inn will close. Everybody leaves, except Carmen and her two friends. They are joined by Dancaïre and Remendado, two smugglers who have acquired some contraband they have to deal with. Frasquita and Mercedes agree to help them but Carmen says “no”. She has other plans and when the others persist she admits that she is in love and that she expects José to be there soon.
The smugglers depart and soon José’s voice is heard in the distance. He enters and Carmen, overjoyed, sings and dances to entertain him. After a while a trumpet is heard from far away, accompanying her song. She likes it but José says he has to leave. This is the signal that he has to return to his regiment. Carmen mocks him, but José takes out the rose he has kept all the time to show that he really loves her. Carmen says: “If you really love me you should leave the regiment and follow me. But José doesn’t want to become a deserter so he collects his things getting ready to leave.
Then there is a knock on the door and Lieutenant Zuniga enters. He has come back to court Carmen. When he sees José he orders him to leave. José refuses and there is a fight. The smugglers return, disarm the fighters and tie up Zuniga. Now José has no choice. He cannot return to his regiment after the fight with his superior and so he consents to join the smugglers.
The smugglers’ camp in the mountains
Carmen has become bored with José and tells him to leave and go to his mother who lives nearby. José refuses. Franquita and Mercedes are entertaining themselves by reading their fortunes from the cards. Carmen joins them and finds that the cards foretell both her and José’s death.
They are called back to reality when the smugglers are called upon to leave for another mission and José is ordered to stay at the camp and keep watch. Micaëla enters, unseen by José, and her mission is to save José from Carmen. She is frightened by a gunshot and hides. José has seen a stranger approaching the camp.
It is Escamillo searching for Carmen, whom he is in love with. José becomes furious and attacks the toreador with a knife. As a professional Escamillo soon defeats him, but José is saved by the return of the smugglers who separate the combatants.
Escamillo leaves and invites everybody to his next bullfight in Seville. Micaëla is discovered and she pleads with José to follow her. At first he won’t listen to her but when he understands that his mother is dying he reluctantly goes with her. But he is going to come back.
A square in Seville. In the background the bullfight
It’s the day of the bullfight and there are festivities in Seville. Mercedes and Frasquita are in the crowd watching the parade. Escamillo enters, together with Carmen, and they express their mutual love. When Escamillo walks into the arena, Mercedes and Frasquita warn Carmen that José is there and that he may be brooding on revenge. But Carmen is not afraid.
When everybody else leaves the square and goes into the arena, José comes up to Carmen pleading that she should take him back. But Carmen is uncompromising. When cheers are heard from inside the arena he makes a last attempt, but Carmen takes off the ring he once gave her and throws it at him. When more cheering is heard – as Escamillo stabs the bull – José stabs his beloved Carmen. The audience at the bullfight leave the arena to find José, completely annihilated, who admits to killing Carmen.
Carmen - mezzo-soprano (lyric or dramatic)
A gypsy girl
Don José - Tenor (spinto)
Corporal of Dragoons
Escamillo - Baritone (Kavalier)
Micaëla - Soprano (lyric)
A village maiden, in love with Don José
Zuniga - Bass (lyric)
Lieutenant of Dragoons
Moralès - Baritone (lyric)
Corporal of Dragoons
Frasquita - Soprano (lyric)
Companion of Carmen
Mercédès - Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Companion of Carmen
Le Dancaïre - Baritone (lyric)
Le Remendado - Tenor (lyric)
Place of birth: Paris, France
Place of death: Bougival, near Paris
Georges Bizet was a French 19th century composer of the romantic era. His list of works include operas, orchestral works, piano works and songs. He is most known for his operas, Carmen being one of the top five most performed worldwide. His life was cut short by a fatal heart attack at the age of 36. After his death, apart from Carmen, his works were generally neglected. During the 20th century his music began to be played more often. Today Carmen and Les pêcheurs de perles are staples in the opera repertoire.
In 1869 Bizet married Geneviève Halévy. Two years later she gave birth to their son Jacques. The Halévy family were not initially positive to their engagement. According to Bizet, they thought of him as being: "penniless, left-wing, anti-religious and Bohemian".
Carmen premiered three months prior to Bizet's death with mostly negative reviews. Bizet went into depression and died of a heart attack three months later. On the day of his funeral, attended by over 4000 people, Carmen was performed at the Opéra-Comique. This time the reviewers hailed him as a master. However, Bizet never got to experience the success of his most popular work.
"Ah, music! What a beautiful art! But what a wretched profession!"
Tchaikovsky went to a performance of Carmen and declared it to be “a masterpiece in every sense of the word”.
Bizet attended the premiere of Tannhäuser by Wagner and wrote about him: "above and beyond all living composers".
Most prominent operas
Henri Meilhac was a French dramatist and opera librettist, best known for his collaborations with Ludovic Halévy on Georges Bizet's Carmen. He also wrote the libretto for Massenet's Manon together with Philippe Gille.
Ludovic Halévy was a French author and playwright, best known for his collaborations with Henri Meilhac on Georges Bizet's Carmen.
The libretto for Carmen is based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The two authors worked together for more than twenty years focusing mainly on operettas, farces and comedies. Together Meilhac and Ludovic also wrote librettos for many of Offenbach's comic operas.
2d1, 2d1, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 0
timp, perc, harp, strings
Carmen was first premiered by the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1875. It was poorly received with critics raging over its content.
Today it is one of the top 5 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - L'amour est un oiseau rebelle "Habanera" (Carmen)
Duet – Parle-moi de ma mère! (Micaëla, Don José)
Aria – Près des remparts de Séville (Carmen)
Trio - Les tringles des sistres tintaient (Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Aria - Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre "The Toreador aria" (Escamillo)
Quintet – Nous avons en tête une affaire (Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès, Remendado, Dancaïre)
Duet – Je vais danser en votre honneur (Carmen, Don José)
Aria – La fleur que tu m'avais jetée "The flower aria" (Don José)
Aria – Melons! Coupons! (Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Aria – Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante (Micaëla)
Duet – C'est toi, c'est moi (Carmen, Don José)