Carmen, Opera by G. Bizet
When Georges Bizet staged the premiere of his new opera Carmen at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875, it was nothing short of a scandal. At a time when operas mostly dealt with the refined romantic relations, intrigues, and power games of the wealthy upper class, the French composer’s work turned the spotlight to the seedy underbelly of society – the poor, the vagrants, the robbers, the schemers, and the adulterers. The subject matter and the graphic depictions of sensual and violent acts on stage made Carmen’s first audiences gasp and turn away in shock. Bizet sadly passed away after 30-something performances and did not live to see his work’s triumph, but nowadays Carmen ranks among the artistic pinnacles in opera. Teatro Aurora in Firenze-Scandicci gives the classic work a well-deserved revival.
Carmen derives its plot from a novella by Prosper Mérimée, which served as the basis of the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. The story focuses on the titular character, Carmen, who is a ravishingly beautiful Gypsy girl who uses her charms to enjoy life to the fullest and live in the moment. The young soldier José falls in love with her, which causes him to neglect his duty and to scorn his fiancée Micaëla. Meanwhile, Carmen is quick to move on and start a romance with the bullfighter Escamillo. Still infatuated with the mesmerising Gypsy girl, José is about to do something irreversible.
Bizet’s numerous breaks from operatic convention made Carmen notorious at the time of its premiere, but they also made sure it remained a timeless gem in the catalogue. Most of all, the music is a thing of rare beauty. Bizet’s score is a masterclass in composition, harmony, and emotional expression. Distinct melodies and phrasings blend seamlessly with the characters’ emotional states, and Spanish and Gypsy folk motifs create an immersive and authentic atmosphere. Numerous solo numbers from Carmen have become standalone evergreens, like the ‘Habanera’, the ‘Seguidilla’, or the ‘Toreador Song’. Still, nothing compares to seeing the whole opera from beginning to end and living through this unique experience. Teatro Aurora in Florence-Scandicci pays a welcome tribute to Georges Bizet and his magnum opus.