Recorded on 11/20/2010, uploaded on 11/20/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Easily Bizet’s most well-known opera, and among the most oft-performed in the repertoire, Carmen endured an arduous path from its inception to its modern popularity. Throughout the 1860s, Bizet had little success in Paris performing his stage works. The two principal opera houses, the Opéra and Opéra-Comique, catered to conservative tastes, leaving little chance for works by young artists to be staged. However, a staging of his one-act opera Djamileh at the Opéra-Comique in 1872, though a disaster itself, led to a further commission for a full-length opera. Partnered with librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Bizet began discussions with the theater’s representative, Aldophe de Leuven, on the selection of an appropriate story. After politely turning down suggestions made by De Leuven, Bizet suggested the novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée, a work he possibly first encountered during his trip to Rome in 1858-60. De Leuven, however, had several misgivings about Bizet’s choice, particularly the risqué nature and amorality of Mérimée’s story. Despite assurances from the librettists that the characters would be softened and even contrasted with morally upright counterparts, he still thought the planned opera to be unsuited for what he considered to be the family-orientated setting of the Opéra-Comique. Though he at first reluctantly agreed to go forward with the project, De Leuven eventually resigned from the theater in 1874 because of Carmen.
De Leuven’s hostility to the project delayed the beginning of rehearsals, which were scheduled to begin in October 1873. Further difficulties were faced in finding a suitable singer to perform the lead role. The favored choice of the librettists was turned down by Bizet himself and another refused outright to perform a role that was required to die on stage. Eventually, Célestine Galli-Marié was engaged after months of negotiations, but in the end turned out to be a staunch defender of Bizet’s work. All of this, however, led to a full year’s delay in staging the work and rehearsals finally began in October 1874.
The premiere of Carmen took place on March 3, 1875. Despite promising final rehearsals and an enthusiastic response from the audience during the first act, the opera was ill-received by the end of the night. Critics pounded Bizet for his “Wagnerian” score and the amoral nature of the title role, despite it being heavily toned down by the librettists from Mérimée’s original character. Even the introduction of the virtuous Micaëla could not offset the seductive Carmen. Furthermore, the audience was hard pressed to sympathize with the moral decline of Don José from upstanding soldier to a mad man enslaved by his uncontrolled emotions. Consequently, the opera was cancelled after its first year at the Opéra-Comique.
Regretfully, Bizet would not live to see the success that Carmen eventually would become. After only its thirty-third performance, Bizet died suddenly from heart disease. Before his death, however, he had signed a contract to stage Bizet at the Vienna Court Opera. For its premiere in Vienna, Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud replaced the original spoken dialogue that occurs between musical numbers with recitatives. Though not all of these recitatives were used, they would become the standard for performances of Carmen outside of France. The Vienna production became the impetus for Carmen’s success. The opera won praise from both Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms. Within three years, Carmen appeared in Brussels, London, New York and St. Petersburg. After winning the international stage, Carmen triumphantly returned to Paris in 1883. Joseph DuBose
Live performance at Wigmore Hall, London UK on October 4th 2010. Produced by Red Piranha Films LLC, directed by Oscar Torres. Camera operators: Daniel Gonzalez, Ronan Sweeney
Loved it. Very beautiful!
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