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Georges Bizet


Carmen - Domingo, Obraztsova, Kleiber, Zeffirelli, 1978
Don José: Plácido Domingo
Carmen: Elena Obraztsova
Escamillo: Yuri Mazurok
Micaela: Isobel Buchanan
Director: Carlos Kleiber

CARMEN Paris-Bastille Opera, conductor: Frédéric Chaslin.
Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Sergei Larin

Carmen is the most widely popular of all operas. There is a legend that disappointment over the failure of its premiere caused Bizet's (1838-1875) death three months later. But the fact is that the opera was more popularly received than any music Bizet had composed before (it scored thirty-seven performances at the Орerа Comique in its first season and has been performed there more than three thousand times since), and Bizet died, at thirty-seven, of a physical disease— probably an embolism. It is now part of the repertory of every opera company in every language—even the Japanese—and its popularity is not confined to the opera stage. It has been made

into restaurant music, virtuoso piano transcriptions, and several movies; and the latest and most successful of the movie versions, Сarmen Jones, is based on a Negro operetta version that was a huge Broadway hit.

It is not hard to see why it is popular. It has so many good tunes! It is so dramatic! It is so bright and clear! And all these characteristics can be heard in the prelude. It starts bright and clear—like a sunny day in Spain; it continues with the famous tune of the Toreador Song; and it becomes suddenly dramatic with the Fate theme—the one that suggests Carmen and her violent death.



Opera in four acts by George Bizet with li
bretto by
Henri Meilbac and Ludovic Наlevy

based on the novel by Prosper Мerimee

CARMEN, a gypsy

DON JOSE, corporal

ESCAMILLO, the toreador

MICAELA, a peasant

EL DANCAIRO, smuggler
EL REMENDADO, smuggler

ZUNIGA, Jose's captain
MORALES, an officer

FRASQUITA, a gipsy

MERCEDES, a gipsy



Time: about 1820

Place: Seville and thereabout

First performance at Paris, March 3, 1875



Soprano. (but usually sung by a mez.). A gypsy who works in the local cigarette factory, she regards love as a game. During a break from work, the girls all gather outside. Carmen notices a young dragoon corporal, Don José, who is in town with a battalion of soldiers. She flirts with him and throws him a flower and he falls in love with her. The women rush out of the factory—Carmen is accused of cutting another girl's face and José is ordered to take her to prison but on the way he allows her to escape. At an inn, Carmen and her friends drink and talk with soldiers. The toreador Escamillo arrives and is attracted to Carmen but she is waiting for Jose. He arrives but Carmen is cross when he says he must return to his regiment. If he loved her, he would stay with her and come to the mountains with her and her friends. Thus she persuades mm to desert and join her band of smugglers. In their mountain camp, Carmen and Jose argue a lot. Reading fortunes in a pack of cards, Carmen is upset to see death for herself and her lover, Escamillo comes looking for her. Carmen prevents the two men fighting and then leaves with the toreador for the bullring to watch him fight. Jose, still in love with Carmen and jealous of Escamillo, hides in the crowd, watching their arrival at the bullring. When he reveals himself, Carmen tells him she no longer wants him and is in love with the bullring. Iose kills her. Arias: L'amour est un Oiseau rebelle (the Habanera) ('Love is like a rebellious bird"), Pres des remparts de Seville (the Seguidille) ('By the city walls of Sevifle'); duet (with Escamillo): Si tu m'aimes ('If you love me'). These have included Minnie Hauk, Giulietta Simionatof Jean Madeira, RisS Stevens, Victoria de los Angeles, Leontyne Price, Maria Cailas, Grace Bumbry, Teresa Berganza, Sally Burgess, Maria Ewing, and Waltraud Meier.  Created (1875) by Сelestine Galli-Маrie.

"L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Elina Garanca)

Many distinguished artistes sang the role of Carmen in early productions of the opera.

Don José:


Tenor. A corporal in the dragoons. He sees Carmen when she emerges from the cigarette factory in which she works. She flirts with him and throws him a flower. Micaëla comes to see José, bringing him a letter from his mother suggesting her as a wife for him. As he starts to show interest, Carmen reappears. She has been in a fight and hurt another girl and José is ordered to escort her to gaol. He is unable to resist her when she suggests they could be lovers, and allows her to escape. He is imprisoned for his carelessness, and when released seeks out Carmen in Lillas Pastia's tavern. As they dance, he tells her he must return to barracks and Carmen is angry, wanting him to stay with her. José is jealous when his superior officer shows an interest in Carmen and strikes him. Now he has no option but to desert and go with Carmen and her band of smugglers into the mountains. There Micaëla again finds him, and tells him his old mother is dying. He leaves with her, but not before he has a fight with the toreador Escamillo, who is also in love with Carmen. José later follows them to the bullring. When Carmen tells him she no longer loves him, he kills her. Aria: La fleur que tu m'avais jetée (‘The flower which you threw me’—known as the Flower Song). As with the title‐role, French singers have not been to the fore in this role, which is usually sung by an Italianate tenor, such as Beniamino Gigli, Fernando De Lucia, Giuseppe di Stefano, Mario del Monaco, Nicolai Gedda, Franco Corelli, Jon Vickers, James McCracken, Dennis O'Neill, Luis Lima, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras. Created (1875) by Paul Lhérie.

Roberto Alagna : "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" 

Carmen at the New York Met in 1915; a publicity photograph that shows the three principal stars: Geraldine Farrar, Enrico Caruso and
Pasquale Amato



Bar. A handsome toreador, he is aware of his own good looks and knows how women are attracted to him. He falls in love with Carmen when he meets her in Lillas Pastia's tavern. She was on her way to prison but her escort, the soldier Don José who loves her, allowed her to escape. At this stage, Carmen is still in love with José and does not encourage Escamillo. José deserts from the dragoons and goes with Carmen and her smuggler friends to their mountain camp. There Escamillo visits her and wins her from the jealous Don José. She leaves for Seville with Escamillo to see him fight in the bullring. She proudly joins him in his triumphant arrival, but stays outside the ring when he enters. There she is killed by José. Aria: Votre toast je peux vous le rendre (‘I can return your toast’); duet (with Carmen): Si tu m'aimes Carmen (‘If you love me, Carmen’). Created (1875) by Jacques Bouhy.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes - Votre Toast Je Peux Vous Le Rendre

Clarence Whitehill as Escamillo in Carmen



Soprano. A peasant girl in love with Don José. She brings messages from his mother, but José is no longer interested in Micaëla, having met Carmen. When he deserts to join Carmen in the smugglers’ mountain camp, Micaëla comes to tell him his mother is dying and he leaves with her. Duet (with Don José): Parle-moi de ma mere; Aria: Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante (‘I tell myself that nothing daunts me’). Created (1875) by Margherite Chapuy.

Parle-moi de ma mère - Leona Mitchell & Jose Carreras - Carmen duet



Tenor. A smuggler, friend of Dancaïre, and associate of Carmen. Created (1875) by Mons. Barnolt.



Tenor. A smuggler, with whom Carmen associates. Created (1875) by Mons. Potel.




Soprano. A gypsy girl, friend of Carmen. Created (1875) by Mme Ducasse.



Soprano. A gypsy girl, friend of Carmen. Created (1875) by Mme Ducasse.



Soprano. A gypsy and friend of Carmen. Created (1873) by Esther Chevalier.

Burlesque on Carmen (1915)

Illustrations from "Carmen" by Alastair 



The prelude ends on a dramatic, dissonant chord, and the curtain rises on a midday scene in a public square in the city of Seville,1300dd years ago. Soldiers, at rest, are commenting on the scene, which is just outside a cigarette factory. A country girl, Micaela, comes in search of her boy friend, the corporal Don Jose; and when she finds he isn't there, she gracefully resists the blandishments of his comrades-in-arms and retires. Now there is a change of the guard, during which a group of urchins imitates the soldiers. The new guard includes Don Jose and his commanding оfficer, Captain Zuniga, who briefly discuss the attractions of the factory girls. Apparently these young ladies have a fascinating reputation; for a group of young men (today we would call them drugstore cowboys) gathers outside the factory for the midday recess. The girls come out, smoking cigarettes—a pretty bold thing to do in the twenties of the last century. But the men are waiting primarily for the most attractive of all the girls—Carmen.

Heralded by a quick little version of her Fate theme, she makes her entrance, flirts with the boys, and then sings her famous Habanera. It is a frank warning that to love Carmen is a dangerous business. Don Jose (a bit of a prig, I always thought) pays her no attention—and so, at the end of her song, she wantonly throws a flower at him. Everyone laughs at his embarrassment as the girls return to work.

Micaela returns to give Don Jose greetings from his mother, which is the occasion for a very sweet duet. It is barely over before a terrific din breaks out among the factory girls and they come swarming from the factory. Captain Zuniga, trying to restore order, discovers that Carmen has caused the trouble by attacking one of the other girls. He orders Don Jose to arrest the culprit and leaves her in his charge while he makes up bis mind, in the guardhouse, what should be done with her. Left alone with Jose, Carmen completes her conquest of the young soldier by singing the seductive Seguidilla. In it she promises to sing and dance for him-and to love him—at a certain disreputable inn run by her friend Lilias Pastia. And so it happens that when Zaniga comes out to order Carmen to prison, she is able to push Don Jose aside and make good her escape. As for the young corporal, be is placed under arrest.

Act II

Each of Carmen's four acts is prefaced by a prelude or entr'acte of its own. The one that introduces Act II is based on а littlе soldier's song which, later in the act, is sung by Don Jose. When the curtain goes up, there is a lively party going on at the inn of Lillas Pastia as Carmen leads the merriment in a wild and swirling song known as the Chanson Воhemе. Don Jose's old commanding officer, Captain Zuniga, is prominent among the guests, trying to ingratiate himself with Carmen. He does not have much luck, for, on the whole, she prefers less respectable company. However, she is delighted to hear that Don Jose has now served his sixty-day sentence for helping her escape.

Suddenly a popular athlete appears on the scene. He is Escamillo, the toreador; and, of course, be sings his Toreador Song, with everyone joining in the chorus. Like Zuniga, he is smitten with Carmen's bright eyes; and she, for her part, plays up to his opening gambits.

But it is late, and time for closing. Soon no one is left but Carmen and a quartet of gypsy smugglers: two girls named Frasquita and Мегcedes, and a couple of ruffians called El Dancairo and El Remendado. They join in a delightful patter quintet, which celebrates the usefulness of girls in carrying out smuggling raids—for smuggling is their business. But off-stage sounds the voice of Don Jose singing the soldier's song, Halte la!

Carmen shoos the others out and warmly welcomes Don Jose back from jail. As she had promised, she begins to sing and dance for him. In the midst of her dance the trumpet sounds retreat in the distance, calling Don Jose to his duty. He begins to depart, only to arouse Carmen's angry contempt. "Is this a way to treat a girl?" she cries. "You сапагу!" Stung by her taunts, he brings out the flower she had flung him, and, in the very moving Flower Song, tells her how it inspired him throughout his days in prison. Impressed and mollified, Carmen again begins to woo him. Jose’s conscience, however, is getting the better of him, when Zuniga saves the day for romance by coining in unbidden and ordering Don Jose to the barracks. This is too much for the youngster. He draws his sword and is about to attack his superior officer when the gypsies rush in and politely disarm the Captain. Now Jose doesn’t have much choice: he is practically forced to give up his military career and join the smuggling gypsies - just as Carmen had planned. And the act ends with a stirring chorus in praise of the free life. It is sung enthusiastically by everyone but Zuniga.


The flute solo that begins the entr'acte before Act III sounds as if it were going to be "The Minstrel Boy,” but it turns into an even better tune-better for opera, anyway. The act opens with a chorus of smugglers—the gang that Don Jose has been forced to join. They are in a lonely spot in thе mountains on professional nefarious business, and Carmen, who is already growing tired of Don Jose, tells him he might be better off with his mother. A lighter note is introduced after their quarrel, when Frasquita and Mercedes start telling their fortunes with cards. I must say that they deal themselves very 
attractive fortunes: one is to find a passionate lover, the other a rich oldster intent on marriage. But Carmen joins in the pastime on a much more somber note, for she turns up the ace of spades, the card of death. "It is useless to try to escape one's fate," she mutters in her famous Card aria. But now the smugglers are called to duty—that is, to try to smuggle their goods over the border. (Their chorus at this point has always struck me as being remarkably noisy for criminals bent on so secretive a job.)

When they are gone, the village girl Micaela comes in search of Don Jose. She is very much frightened, and she asks the protection of the Lord in a touching aria (Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante). Suddenly Jose, who has been left on guard, fires a shot, and Micaela is frightened away. However, it is not Micaela be has aimed at, but Escamillo, who is there in search of Carmen. When Jose discovers what Escamillo is after, the two men start a fight with knives. Jose is getting the better of it, when Carmen gets back just in time to save the toreador Gallantly thanking Carmen, he invites everyone to his next performance in Seville. As he starts down the mountainside, Micaela is found. She delivers her message: Jose's mother is dying and wishes to see him once more. Carmen contemptuously tells him he had better go. But before he goes, he turns furiously on her and warns her that they shall meet again— that only death can part them. Off-stage, the toreador's song is heard, and Carmen tries to rush to him. But Jose, turning back once more, hurls her violently to the ground—and finally leaves, as the orchestra quietly and ominously repeats the toreador's melody.


The last act is introduced by some of the most bnlliant and pulse-beating music in the whole score. Everyone is in his best clothes; everyone is getting ready to watch the great Escamillo perform in the arena at Seville. A large and impressive parade of dignitaries enters the theater—all of it duly described by the chorus. Finally, in comes the toreador himself, and on his arm is Carmen, dressed m such finery as only a successful bullfighter could afford. They sing a brief and rather banal love duet, and then Escamilllo disappears into thae theater, everyone except Carmen following him. She is warned by her friends, Frasquita and Mercedes, that Don Jose has been lurking about. Defiantly she remains outside alone, saying she does not fear him.

Then Don Jose comes on, tattered and ragged, a pitiful contrast to Carmen in her holiday best Pitifully he pleads to be taken back, but she shows him only contempt. The more pressingly he pleads, the more contempt she shows; and finally she throws the ring he had given her directly in his face. Off-stage the chorus is cheering the toreador, Jos69s successful rival. Maddened by this and by Carmen's behavior, he threatens her with bis knife. Desperately she attempts to rush past him into the theater; but just as the crowd shouts that Escamillo is victorious, he plunges the knife into his lost beloved. The crowd pours out, while Don Jose, brokenly cries: "You can arrest me... Oh, my Сагшеп!"

Musical numbers

Act 1

Prelude (orchestra)
Sur la place chacun passe (Chorus of soldiers, Moralès, Micaëla)
Avec la garde montante (Chorus of urchins, Zuniga)
La cloche a sonné (Chorus of citizens, soldiers, cigarette girls)
Habanera: L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Carmen, chorus as above)
Carmen! Sur tes pas nous pressons! (Chorus of citizens and cigarette girls)
Parle-moi de ma mère (José, Micaëla)
Que se passe-t-il là-bas? Au secours! Au secours! (Chorus of cigarette girls, soldiers, Zuniga)
Tra-la-la...Coupe-moi, brûle-moi (Carmen, Zuniga, cigarette girls, José)
Seguidilla: Près des remparts de Séville (Carmen, José)
Finale: Voici l'ordre; partez (Zuniga, Carmen)
Entr'acte (orchestra)
Act 2

Les tringles des sistres tintaient (Carmen, Mercédès, Frasquita)
Vivat! Vivat le torero! (Chorus of Escamillo's followers, Zuniga, Mercédès, Frasquita, Moralès, Lillas Pastia)
Toreador Song: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Escamillo, Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen, Moralès, Zuniga, Lillas Pastia, chorus)
Quintette: Nous avons en tête une affaire! (Le Dancaire, le Remendado, Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Halte-là! Qui va là? (José, Carmen, Mercédès, Frasquita, le Dancaire, le Remendado)
Je vais danser en votre honneur...La fleur que tu m'avais jetée...Non! Tu ne m'aimes pas! (Carmen, José)
Finale: Holà! Carmen! Holà! (Zuniga, José, Carmen, le Dancaire, le Remendado, Mercédès, Frasquita, chorus)
Entr'acte (orchestra)
Act 3

Écoute, compagnon, écoute (Chorus of smugglers, Mercédès, Frasquita, Carmen, José, le Dancaire, le Remendado)
Mêlons! – Coupons! (Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen)
Quant au douanier, c'est notre affaire (Frasquita, Mercédès, Carmen, le Dancaire, le Remendado, chorus)
C'est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire (Micaëla)
Je suis Escamillo, torero de Grenade! (Escamillo, José)
Finale: Holà holà José! (Carmen, Escamillo, Micaëla, Frasquita, Mercédès, le Dancaire, José, le Remendado, chorus)
Entr'acte (orchestra)
Act 4

A deux cuartos! (Chorus of citizens, Zuniga, Moralès, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Les voici, voici la quadrille ... Si tu m'aimes, Carmen (Chorus of citizens, children, Escamillo, Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès)
Finale: C'est toi! – C'est moi! (Carmen, José, chorus)

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