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Opera notes: "March of the Toreadors"

Updated: Apr 24

“The essence of tragedy is inevitability.”

--Professor Frank Bryant, “Educating Rite” (1983)


The opera Carmen is widely regarded as the story of a naïve young soldier who was tragically lured into a life of crime by a seductive Romani woman.  The source material, a novella by Prosper Mérimée, gives a very different story.

 

Early in the tale, Don José is revealed to be José Lizarrabenogoa, a thief who fled his native Basque after killing a man in a gambling dispute. He joins the military under an assumed name, where he meets Carmen. Intrigued by the fiery young woman, he follows her into her life as a smuggler. When he learns that Carmen is married, he kills her husband in a knife fight, claims that she is now his wife, and becomes jealous and possessive. But Carmen, who has had quite enough of this, tells him that she no longer cares for him. She has seen omens of her own death and she realizes that breaking with José could well be the trigger. But Carmen values her freedom above all. Her attentions soon turn toward a young bullfighter. Don Jose follows her to the arena and kills her in a jealous rage. In the novella, it is clear that this tale could only end in death.

 

In Bizet’s opera, the inevitable tragedy is always present, but more subtly so. Don José’s dark past is not explicitly revealed, but there are hints. When Micaella, a village maiden, appears with a letter of his mother, José is overwhelmed by the message of forgiveness. Forgiveness for what?  We’re not told.

 

Carmen, for all that she’s portrayed as a seductress, is always clear about who she is and what she wants. As the old saying goes, “When someone shows who they are, believe them.” In her famous “Habanera” aria, she lets José know exactly what he can expect. To no one’s surprise, he doesn’t listen, and the story moves toward its inevitable ending.

 

The final act begins with a festive celebration. “The March of the Toreadors” is sung by an excited crowd who’ve gather to watch toreador Escamillo in action. Yet even now, death is not far away: the happy spectators have come to the arena knowing that someone would fall, be it the bull or the toreador.


"The March of the Toreadors"

English Translation


Your toast, I can give it to you

Sirs, sirs, for along with the soldiers

Yes, the Toreros, can understand;

For pleasures, for pleasures

They have combats!

The arena is full, it is the feast day!

The arena is full, from top to bottom;

The spectators are losing their minds,

The spectators began a big fracas!

Apostrophes, cries, and uproar grow to a furor!

Because it is a celebration of courage!

It is the celebration of people with heart!

Let’s go, en guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah!

Toreador, en guard!

Toreador, Toreador!

And dream away, yes, dream in combat,

That dark eyes are watching you,

And that love awaits you,Toreador, love awaits you!

And dream away, yes dream in combat,

That dark eyes are watching you

And may love await you,

Toreador, love await you!

All of a sudden, it is silent...

Ah, what is happening?

More cries! It is the moment! The bull throws himself out

Bounding out of the bullpin!

He throws himself out! He enters.

He strikes! A horse rolls,

Dragging a picador,

Ah, Bravo! Bull! The crowd roars!

The bull goes, he comes,

He comes and strikes again!

Shaking his dart-stabbed neck,

Full of fury, he runs!

The arena is full of blood!

They save themselves, they pass the gates

It is your turn now. Let’s go!

En guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah!

Toreador, en guard! Toreador, Toreador!

And dream away, yes, dream in combat,

That dark eyes are watching you,

And that love awaits you,Toreador,

Love awaits you!

And dream away, yes, dream in combat,

That dark eyes are looking at you

And that love awaits you

Toreador, love awaits you!

And dream away, yes, dream in combat,

That darks eyes are looking at you

And that love awaits you

And that love awaits you.

Toreador, love awaits you!

Love! Love! Love!

Toreador, Toreador, love awaits you!

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