“... a spectacular performance of music from Ravel’s ballet ‘Daphnis and Chloé’.”
Channing Gray
The Providence Journal
11 May 2014



 







Georges Bizet (1838–75)

Georges Bizet  |  Carmen  (1875)


Habañera
Seguidilla
March of the Toreadors

“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.”
 
“What a beautiful art, but what a wretched profession.”

— Georges Bizet

George Bizet, like Mozart and few others, was a child prodigy. He was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire as a 9-year-old boy, studied with Charles Gounod and others, won many prizes, and received the Prix de Rome — a five-year state pension that required two years of study at the French Academy in Rome — before his 20th birthday. His first preserved compositions date from around 1850, when he was 11 or 12. He was 17 when he wrote his first symphony.

Bizet, conscious of his gifts as a composer, retained a youthful cynicism and voiced a variety of strongly held opinions. An atheist, he entered a competition for composing a religious work. His Te Deum did not win; he decided never to write sacred music again. (The Prix de Rome required him to compose a Mass. He offered his comic opera Don Procopio instead, which was accepted and praised by the Académie leadership.) He was aware that audiences in Paris preferred traditional stories and conventional musical techniques, but his inner voice would not allow him to compose music that was merely facile. He was embarrassed to be an admirer of Verdi’s operas. He left a significant number of projects unfinished — partly, some have suggested, because he lost interest in them or because a libretto did not require his more extensive abilities as a composer.

He could have had a career as a virtuoso pianist. In Paris at a dinner party attended by Franz Listz, he astonished everyone by sitting down and playing one of Listz’s most difficult piano compositions perfectly at sight. He earned a living partly by preparing piano transcriptions of operas by other composers and partly from the compositions he was able to complete.

Carmen was a change. Bizet began working on the project in the summer of 1873, but set it aside when the management of the Opéra-Comique had second thoughts about the risque story line. He began work on an opera about El Cid instead, a work that was never finished, but a change of management at the Opéra led him to complete his work on Carmen. Bizet was pleased with it: “I have written a work that is all clarity and vivacity, full of colour and melody.” There were further management attempts to soften parts of the story (the cast helped Bizet repel those) and some of the musicians declared parts of the score unplayably difficult, but the premiere took place March 3, 1875.

The reception was mixed, ranging from reviews that quarreled with the heroine’s amoral seductive qualities, to composers who appreciated the music (Massenet, Saint-Saëns), to observations that Bizet had presented a drama with real men and women. The overall public reception was modest; Bizet braced himself for “a hopeless flop.”

Bizet would not live to see Carmen become one of the top three audience favorites of all time. His health had declined during his work on Carmen, and long-standing problems with “throat angina” reappeared and worsened. On June 3, 1875 — three months after the premiere of the work that would define his career — he died at the age of 36.

Carmen: The Synopsis

Late 19th-century Parisian opera audiences found lots to disapprove of in Carmen — not the music so much as the story: a bar fight, women smoking cigarettes, intense flirting, betrayals, smuggling, jealousy, bold sexuality, even murder. The story is set in Seville, Spain, around 1820. Corporal Don José is on duty. The love of his life, a peasant girl named Micaëla, brings him a letter and delivers a kiss from his mother. That tenderness contrasts with the aggressive sexuality of Carmen, a gypsy “cigarette girl” at the town’s cigarette factory, who stuns Don José into love.

There is a fight inside the factory — Carmen and another cigarette girl are tearing at each other’s hair. The soldiers restore order, Carmen is arrested as the instigator, and Don José is ordered to take her to prison. On the way to prison, Carmen convinces the helplessly lovesick Don José to allow her to escape. He does, she flees, and Don José himself is locked up.

The scene shifts to the tavern of Lillas Pastia. Gypsies and soldiers, including Carmen and Lieutenant Zuniga, Don José’s commanding officer, are in the tavern. Escamillo, a victorious, boasting matador, passes through in a torchlight parade and joins them for a drink. He flirts with Carmen, then leaves with the tavern guests. The gypsies remain to discuss a smuggling scheme. Don José, out of prison, arrives at the tavern. Carmen taunts him, uses Escamillo to make him jealous, and tells him to desert the army and adopt the free gypsy life in the mountains outside Seville. Zuniga returns. He and Don José fight until the gypsies restrain Zuniga. Don José, having fought with his commanding officer, now has no other option; he escapes and joins the gypsies.

Life with the gypsies does not go well. Carmen declares that her love for Don José is fading and tells him to leave the gypsy hideout and return home, where he has learned that his mother is dying. Escamillo shows up, looking for Carmen. The two men fight but are separated by the gypsies. The storylines converge at the Seville bull ring, where Escamillo is to fight. He arrives with Carmen on his arm. Don José is nearby and eventually meets with Carmen. He pleads his case, that he has given up everything for her love; she assures him that their love is over. The crowd cheers Escamillo; Don José stabs Carmen to death.


Bizet bio    Carmen synopsis    Seguidilla    Toreadors

Habañera

Act I opens on a public square in Seville. Near the end of their watch, a group of soldiers smoke and observe people coming and going, paying close attention to the young women. The peasant girl Micaëla arrives, looking for Corporal Don José. The soldiers try to convince her to join them in the guard house, but she runs away. Don José arrives with the new guard under the command of Lieutenant Zuniga and the old guard departs. A bell rings in the cigarette factory, and the square fills with attentive young men as the “cigarette girls” go on break. Carmen enters, flirting with the young men who throng around her.

“Carmen,” the young men say, “be kind and at least answer us. Tell us when you’re going to love us!” Carmen responds with Habañera.

Text
(Choral portions are in parentheses)

Quand je vous aimerai?
Ma foi, je ne sais pas,
Peut-être jamais, peut-être demain.
Mais pas aujourd’hui, c’est certain’

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
Et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle,
S’il lui convient de refuser.
Rien n’y fait, menace ou prière;
L’un parle bien, l’autre se tait,
Et c’est l’autre que je préfère;
Il n’a rien dit, mais il me plaît.

(L’amour est un oiseau rebelle) L’amour...
(Que nul ne peut apprivoiser,) L’amour...
(Et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle,) L’amour...
(S’il lui convient de refuser.) L’amour...

L’amour est enfant de bohème,
Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi’
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Si tu ne m’aimes pas,
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime;
Prends garde à toi ’

(L’amour est enfant de bohème,)
(Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi;)
(Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;)
(Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi ’)
(Prends garde à toi’)

Si tu ne m’aimes pas,
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime;
Prends garde à toi’
   (Prends garde à toi’)

L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendre
Battit de l’aile et s’envola.
L’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre;
Tu ne l’attends plus, il est là.
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite,
Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient.
Tu crois le tenir, il t’évite,
Tu crois l’éviter, il te tient’

(Tout autour de toi, vite, vite) L’amour...
(Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient.) L’amour...
(Tu crois le tenir, il t’évite,) L’amour...
(Tu crois l’éviter, il te tient ’) L’amour...

L’amour est enfant de bohème,
Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi’
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Si tu ne m’aimes pas,
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime
Prends garde à toi’

(L’amour est enfant de bohème,)
(Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi;)
(Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime;)
(Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi’)
(Prends garde à toi’)

Si tu ne m’aimes pas,
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime
   (Prends garde à toi’)
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime
Prends garde à toi’
   (Prends garde à toi’)

When will I love you?
Good Lord, I don’t know,
Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.
But not today, that’s for sure.

Love is a rebellious bird
That none can tame,
And it is well in vain that one calls it,
If it suits it to refuse.
Nothing to be done, threat or prayer;
The one talks well, the other is silent,
And it’s the other that I prefer;
He said nothing, but he pleases me.

(Love is a rebellious bird) Love...
(That none can tame,) Love...
(And it is well in vain that one calls it,) Love...
(Because it suits it to refuse.) Love...

Love is a gypsy child,
It has never, never known the law;
If you don’t love me, I love you;
If I love you, do stand on guard
   (Do stand on guard)
If you don’t love me,
If you don’t love me, I love you;
   (Do stand on guard)
But if I love you, if I love you,
Do stand on guard

(Love is a gypsy child,)
(It has never, never known the law;)
(If you don’t love me, I love you;)
(If I love you, do stand on guard)
(Do stand guard)

If you don’t love me,
If you don’t love me, I love you;
   (Do stand on guard)
But if I love you, if I love you,
Do stand on guard
   (Do stand on guard)

The bird you hoped to catch
Beat its wings and flew away.
Love is far, you can wait for it;
You no longer await it, there it is.
All around you, swift, swift,
It comes, goes, then it returns.
You think to hold it fast, it flees you,
You think to flee it, it holds you

(All around you, swift,) Love...
(It comes, goes, then it returns.) Love...
(You think to hold it fast, it flees you,) Love...
(You think to flee it, it holds you) Love...

Love is a gypsy child,
It has never, never known the law;
If you don’t love me, then I love you;
If I love you, do stand on guard
   (Do stand on guard)
If you don’t love me,
If you don’t love me, then I love you;
   (Do stand on guard)
But if I love you, if I love you,
Do stand on guard

(Love is a gypsy child,)
(It has never, never known the law;)
(If you don’t love me, then I love you;)
(If I love you, do stand on guard)
(Do stand on guard)

If you don’t love me,
If you don’t love me, then I love you;
   (Do stand on guard)
But if I love you, if I love you,
Do stand on guard
   (Do stand on guard)


Bizet bio    Carmen synopsis    Habanera    Toreadors

Seguidilla

Carmen approaches Don José, speaks briefly with him, then tosses a flower at him. Their break over, Carmen and the cigarette girls return to the factory. Don José is stunned, as if hit by Cupid’s arrow. (“What brazen impudence! That flower had the effect of a bullet striking me! ... If there really are witches, she’s certainly one.”) Micaëla returns and finds Don José. She brings him a letter and a little money from his mother, who also sends a kiss, which Micaëla delivers. He gives her a kiss to take back to his mother. Micaëla leaves.

A fight breaks out in the factory, and Don José takes two soldiers with him to quiet the uproar. Carmen is identified as the instigator. She defies the soldiers and is arrested. Don José is ordered by his superiors to take her to prison. On the way, Carmen tells Don José that he is in love with her and that he will release her. Don José knows he is helpless.

Text

Près des remparts de Séville
chez mon ami Lillas Pastia,
j’irai danser la séguedille
et boire du Manzanilla,
j’irai chez mon ami Lillas Pastia.
Oui, mais toute seule on s’ennuie,
et les vrais plaisir sont à deux ...
donc pour me tenir compagnie,
j’amènerai mon amoureux!

Mon amoureux! ...
Il est au diable!
Je l’ai mis à la porte hier!
Mon pauvre coeur,
très consolable,
mon coeur est libre comme l’air! ...
J’ai des galants à la douzaine;
mais ils ne sont pas à mon gré.
Voici la fin de la semaine:
qui veut m’aimer?
Je l’aimerai!
Qui veut mon âme? ...
Elle est à prendre! ...
Vous arrivez au bon moment!
Je n’ai guère le temps d’attendre,
car avec mon nouvel amant ...
près des remparts de Séville,
chez mon ami Lillas Pastia,
j’irai danser la séguedille
et boire du Manzanilla,
j’irai chez mon ami
Lillas Pastia!

Near the walls of Seville,
At my friend place, Lillas Pastia
I will dance the Seguedille
And drink Manzanilla.
I will go to the home of my friend Lillas Pastia.
Yes, all alone one can get bored,
And real pleasures are for two;
So, to keep me company,
I’ll take my lover!

My love,
He is the devil,
I did away with him yesterday!
My poor heart
Is very consolable
My heart is free as a bird!
I have a dozen suitors,
But they are not to my liking.
This is the end of the week
Who will love me?
I will love him!
Who wants my soul?
It is for you to take.
You arrive at the right time!
I have little time to wait,
Because with my new lover,
Near the walls of Seville,
I will go to my friend, Lillas Pastia!
I will dance the Seguedille
And drink Manzanilla.
I will go to the home of my friend
Lillas Pastia.


Bizet bio    Carmen synopsis    Habanera    Seguidilla   

March of the Toreadors

The matador Escamillo appears heroically in Act II. He is the focus of a torchlight parade celebrating his victory in the Granada bullfights. The parade passes a tavern where Carmen has gathered with her gypsy friends and others, including Don José’s commanding officer. Toasts and handclasps ensue. Escamillo flirts a bit with Carmen and then leaves with many of the tavern crowd; Don José arrives. He now has a rival for Carmen’s affections.

The story ends in the final scene of Act III, but it cannot end well. The characters are all in attendance at the Seville bull ring. The celebrity parade launches the afternoon’s entertainment, led by cuadrillas of picadors and banderilleros, all sparklingly dressed and strutting. And finally, the great matador Escamillo himself ... with the ravishingly dressed Carmen on his arm.

Text

Coro
Les voici! Voici la quadrille!
La quadrille des toréros!
Sur les lances le soleil brille!
En l’air toques et sombreros!
Les voici! Àoici la quadrille,
la quadrille des toréros!
Voici, débouchant sur la place,
voici d’abord, marchant au pas,
l’alguazil à vilaine face!
À bas! À bas! À bas! À bas!
Et puis saluons au passage,
saluons les hardis chulos!
Bravo! viva! gloire au courage!
Voici les hardis chulos!
Voyez les banderilleros!
Voyez quel air de crânerie!
Voyez! Voyez! Voyez! Voyez!
Quel regards, et de quel éclat
étincelle la broderie
de leur costume de combat!
Voici les banderilleros!
Une autre quadrille s’avance!
Voyez les picadors!

Comme ils sont beaux!
Comme ils vont du fer de leur lance,
harceler le flanc des taureaux!
[Paraît enfin Escamillo, ayant près de lui Carmen,
radieuse et dans un costume éclatant.]

L’Espada! Escamillo!
C’est l’Espada, la fine lame,
celui qui vient terminer tout,
qui paraît à la fin du drame
et qui frappe le dernier coup!
Vive Escamillo! Ah bravo!
Les voici! Voici la quadrille! [etc.]

Chorus
Here they come! Here’s the cuadrilla!
The toreadors’ cuadrilla!
The sun flashes on their lances!
Up in the air with your caps and hats!
Here they are! Here’s the cuadrilla,
the toreadors’ cuadrilla!
Here, coming into the square
first of all, marching on foot,
is the constable with his ugly mug!
Down with him! Down with him!
And now as they go by
let’s cheer the bold chulos!
Bravo! Hurrah! Glory to courage!
Here come the bold chulos!
Look at the banderilleros!
See what a swaggering air!
See them! See them!
What looks, and how brilliantly
the ornaments glitter
on their fighting dress!
Here are the banderilleros!
Another cuadrilla’s coming!
Look at the picadors!

How handsome they are!
How they’ll torment the bulls’ flanks
with the tips of their lances!
[At last Escamillo appears, accompanied by a
radiant and magnificently dressed Carmen.]

The Matador! Escamillo!
It’s the Matador, the skilled swordsman,
he who comes to finish things off,
who appears at the drama’s end
and strikes the last blow!
Long live Escamillo! Ah bravo!
Here they are! Here’s the cuadrilla! [etc.]