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Thread: Carmen. The World's Most Loved Opera

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    Member michael walsh's Avatar
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    Default Carmen. The World's Most Loved Opera

    Carmen: The World’s Most Loved Opera

    In a letter dated October 1866, French composer Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875) went straight to the point of opera: “As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.”

    The opera prodigy and gifted pianist sprinkled far more of the human experience into his much loved opera, Carmen. It is arguably still the world’s most popular opera one hundred and thirty-five years after his death from a heart attack at just thirty-six years of age. As a staged spectacular it was an opera that pioneered the grittiness of real life characters and events. From Carmen flowed a new genre of opera which set the scene for Mascagni’s Cavallaria Rusticana, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, and Puccini’s La Boheme. Fly on the wall stuff, it was the forerunner to today’s television soap operas. This is real life warts and all.

    Questionable Morality

    Carmen is the story of a beautiful coquettish factory worker of questionable morality. By feminine guile she uses, abuses and seduces her way through a rich tapestry of gypsies, thieves, soldiers and smugglers. Her flirtatiousness finally brings the seductress to a sticky end at the point of a dagger wielded by her jealous lover: The finale of this nail-biting drama takes place outside the arena as her bullfighter lover triumphs over his bovine adversary.

    George Bizet was a handsome bearded man not unlike his contemporary Peter Tchaikovsky. This French composer of Spain’s most celebrated musical masterpiece delighted in his own compositions but was bemused when they never won hearts and minds. He for his part failed to fully appreciate Carmen, which did earn considerable acclaim and made him a household name throughout the world.

    A Wretched Profession

    It is a mystery how the young Bizet could consider Carmen a flop. From the start he had been paid the considerable sum of 25,000 francs, and been awarded the Chevalier of the legion d’honneur. His risqué opera received an impressive 37 performances. Had he lived just another three months he would have seen Carmen triumph and within three years it was playing to packed houses throughout the world. “Ah music!” he is quoted as saying: “What a beautiful art but what a wretched profession.”

    Bizet was hardly a one opera wonder though it cannot be denied that Carmen was more of a success than his lesser known opera, The Pearl Fishers. Its celebrated duet Les pêcheurs de perles (In the Depths of the Temple) has on a number of occasions been voted by radio listeners as their all time favourite piece of classical music. For sheer musical whimsy Bizet’s music set to the Alphonse Daudet’s play L'Arlésienne takes some beating.

    Better than Mozart

    This self effacing composer joined the echelon of history’s greatest composers from quite an early age. Before his eighteenth birthday he had composed his first symphony, which is said to rival anything composed by Mozart or Mendelssohn when they were still teenagers. He had also won a competition sponsored by the theatre impresario Jacques Offenbach, and later was awarded the coveted Prix de Rome. Gustav Mahler, one of the greatest composers of all time considered George Bizet’s Djamileh a masterpiece.

    Such was the man who on his death bed considered himself to be a failure. At the last count there have been fourteen screen versions of Carmen not to mention the famous Hammerstein stage adaptation Carmen Jones (1945). One can only wonder what this remarkable composer might consider success. ©

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    Thank you.

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    I watched it few weeks ago in Metropolitan: Live in HD

    I was really pleased, it was fantastic!
    It is currently my favourite opera (don't forget I watched only about 10 operas in my life, and I'm pretty young)

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    Carmen is a fantastic opera. The melodies and dialogue between the characters make it so easy and beautiful to listen to. Amazing that the beauty of Carmen took so long to be accepted. Thanks for the article.

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    Senior Member sospiro's Avatar
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    Fascinating article - thank you.

    My parents must have been playing Carmen in the house before I was born as I cannot remember a time when it wasn't familiar to me.
    Ann

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    Wagner was another composer who praised Carmen. I quite like this opera myself, but my favourite Bizet compositions are his two L'Arlesienne suites (I think the second one not orchestrated by the composer, but anyway...). I really like how Bizet used the saxophone, then a new instrument, in the first of those suites. Wagner or Richard Strauss thought that it was only meant to be relegated to marching bands (vulgar?), but obviously Bizet thought otherwise. The only other piece I can think of that integrates this instrument so well into the orchestral texture is Kodaly's Hary Janos suite.

    It is true that Bizet was a great melodist, but his music doesn't lack depth. All of his three operatic works are masterpieces. I have little time for somewhat snobbish people who stare down their noses at his music for being too much for the plebs. There's nothing wrong with something being accessible, but as the article notes, back in Bizet's day he was considered by some to be pushing the boundaries too much...

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    Wagner was another composer who praised Carmen.
    Quite true.
    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    my favourite Bizet compositions are his two L'Arlesienne suites
    Me too. Also I adore his C-major Symphony.

    Alas, Bizet's life was all too brief: he had much brilliant music yet in him.
    He died (like Berg, Mahler, and Skryabin) of a streptococcal blood infection--very nasty.

    Glenn Gould relished, performed, and advocated Bizet's Variations Chromatiques and Nocturne for piano.

    --------------------------------------

    One minor point, however: the most popular opera is probably Puccini's La Bohème.

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    Opera!!!!!
    Gotterdammerung is an opera
    La Boheme is an opera
    Don Giovanni is an opera
    Carmen is a bloody musical!!!!

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    So, any opinions on which Carmen (recording) is THE Carmen to have?

    Karajan?

    Abbado?

    Sinopoli?

    I was totally knocked out by Elina Garanca in the METs recent production (with Alberto Alagana).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elina_Garanca

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    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    For DVD.......
    Of the versions that are easliy available my favorite is Antonacci for Decca, firey gypsy flavor with knock out stageing and great orchestral support from Papano

    If Migenes / Domingo film version were not so expensive that would be my top choice, check some of the youtube clips, I want this!

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    There'll never be The Carmen for me as my tastes have changed over time

    I have this one which I've had for ages & I still love watching



    but this is next on my list

    Ann

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sospiro View Post
    I still love watching
    That's the Levine DVD which uses the same ensemble of the Karajan CD.

    Check Garanca:

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episod...the-opera/978/

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    You can't get away from it if you ever have to see an opera!

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    Senior Member Il Seraglio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayerl View Post
    Opera!!!!!
    Gotterdammerung is an opera
    La Boheme is an opera
    Don Giovanni is an opera
    Carmen is a bloody musical!!!!
    Why compare Carmen to Twilight of the Gods or La Boheme anyway? What I love about Carmen is how anti-Romantic it is. Like the operas of Mozart, the drama is subordinate to the music and not the other way around, the story although tragic is also upbeat and entertaining and there is not one bit of Wagnerian idealism in the central romance. Just human behaviour warts and all. Gosh forbid the music should have regular cadences or a traditional sense of melody or that the characters don't ponder the future of mankind for five hours.

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    Default I have to agree with you

    even if I prefer "les pêcheurs de perles" by Bizet.

    But the book by Prospère Mérimée is nothing special...I have two DVDs of Carmen...One, a regular (a good one), the second one sung in RUSSIAN!!!!!!!

    KAPMEH


    Martin

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