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Bizet's Carmen: The Unfortunate Irony of a Universal Love Never Known by its Creator
Georges Bizet wrote the opera "Carmen", considered one of the masterpieces of French opera, at just 36 years old, but he never knew how big his work would become.

Georges Bizet, the fallen star of the firmament of 19th-century French music, continues to shine in the pantheon of classical composers. His genius, prematurely terminated, defied expectations and shaped the course of music, with his unmistakable masterpiece 'Carmen' living and echoing in theaters around the world.

After composing the one-act opera “Djamileh” in 1871, Bizet received a suggestion from Camille du Locle, director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris, to collaborate with two of the most important librettists of Paris, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy , the latter a cousin of Bizet's wife. Bizet proposed to adapt a short story by Prosper Mérimée, "Carmen". After completing the orchestration in the summer of 1874, he was certain of the value of what he had written: “They say I am obscure, complicated, boring, more constrained by technique than enlightened by inspiration. Well, this time I have written an opera which is full of clarity, vivacity, color and melody.” He was absolutely right.

During the long rehearsals, Bizet fought strenuously against a reluctant direction to maintain the realism of the story of Carmen, the daring cigarette factory girl whose adventures with an army officer and a bullfighter end in her dramatic murder. The composer was constantly working on the score to tighten the action and increase the tension.

The first Carmen, Célestine Galli-Marié, asked him to rewrite the famous Habanera no less than 14 times to fit her voice. Ironically, this famous mezzo-soprano aria was plagiarized by Bizet from "El Arreglito", a song by the Spanish composer Sebastián Yradier.

"Carmen" was first performed on March 3, 1875. Its critical reception was a blow to Bizet. Inspired by the sight of women smoking on stage, "low-grade" characters and the theme of erotic obsession, critics condemned "Carmen" as "vulgar", "undramatic" and "despicable". 

Though Bizet was disheartened by the critical response, his opera proved to have a life force of its own, with 37 performances that Season. And, in an act of recognition that defied general opinion, Bizet was awarded the Légion d'Honneur and received a hefty sum of 25,000 francs from his publisher for the score.

Tragically, on the night of the 31st performance of Carmen, Bizet succumbed to a heart attack. He died still convinced that his work was a failure, unaware of the storm of change it was about to unleash on the European musical landscape.

In the months following her death, a second production of "Carmen" in Vienna received a triumphal reception, reclaiming it as a masterpiece. Within three years, "Carmen" had reached nearly every major opera house in Europe. His influence was particularly felt in Italy, where he marked the beginning of the verismo movement, giving rise to works such as "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci".

Though Bizet's life was tragically cut short, his legacy continued to thrive. Although his early death prevented him from seeing the monumental success of his work, Bizet's music continues to resonate in concert halls around the world, a testament to his talent and daring, and enthralling new generations of music lovers .

  1. Despite his passion for music, Bizet's family wanted him to pursue an academic career. It was only after failing his entrance exam at the École Polytechnique that he decided to devote himself completely to music.

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