George Bizet (1838 – 1875) wrote in a letter; “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 French prodigy and pianist sprinkled far more of the human experience into his much-loved opera, Carmen. The opera, based on the tumultuous love life of the precocious and ravishing Carmen is arguably the world’s most popular opera even 135 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.
Carmen tells the story of the beautiful factory girl worker of questionable morality. By guile, she uses, abuses and seduces her way through a rich tapestry of gipsies, thieves, soldiers and smugglers. Her flirtatiousness finally brings the seductress to a sticky end at the end of a dagger wielded by her jealous lover: The drama takes place outside the arena of her bullfighter lover’s triumph.
Bizet was a handsome bearded man not unlike his contemporary Peter Tchaikovsky. This French composer of Spain’s most iconic musical masterpiece delighted in his compositions which never won hearts and yet he failed to fully appreciate Carmen, which did.
It is a mystery how Bizet could consider Carmen a flop. From the start, he had been paid a fortune of 25,000 francs and been awarded the Chevalier of the legion d’honneur. His opera received an impressive 37 performances. Had he lived just another three months he would have seen Carmen triumph and with 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 such a success that his lesser-known 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 his music set to the Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne takes some beating.
This modest composer had already joined the echelon of history’s greatest composers. By the age of seventeen, he had composed his first symphony which is said to rival anything by Mozart or Mendelssohn at the same age. He had won a competition sponsored by Jacques Offenbach, and later was awarded the coveted Prix de Rome. Gustav Mahler considered Djamileh a masterpiece.
Such was the man who on his death bed considered himself to be a failure. At the last count, there had been fourteen screen versions of Carmen not to mention the famous Hammerstein stage adaptation Carmen Jones (1945). One can only wonder what he might consider success. ~ Michael Walsh.
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MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of RISE OF THE SUN WHEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, WITNESS TO HISTORY, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER , THE FIFTH COLUMN VOLUME I and II, FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, IMMORTAL BELOVED, THE ALL LIES INVASION, INSPIRE A NATION Volume I, INSPIRE A NATION Volume II , SLAUGHTER OF A DYNASTY , REICH AND WRONG, THE RED BRIGANDS, RANSACKING THE REICH , SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: ARNO BREKER AND REICH SCULPTORS , SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: JOSEF THORAK AND REICH SCULPTORS , The Exiled Duke Romanov Who Turned Desert Into Paradise , THE DOVETAILS , SEX FEST AT TIFFANY’S and other book titles. These illustrated best-selling books are essential for the libraries of informed readers.
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