Carmen, Baths of Caracalla
Nowadays Carmen is universally recognised as one of opera's greatest. Unfortunately, its composer Georges Bizet did not live to see this triumph. He succumbed to a heart condition just three months after the much-critiqued premiere at the Opera-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875. However, Carmen proved its immense worth and is now coming to the Baths of Caracalla in Rome!
When the commission by the Opera-Comique came, Georges Bizet decided the genre needed refreshing. Instead of tackling the usual bourgeois subject matters, he enlisted librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy to rework Prosper Mérimée's novella for the stage and turn a spotlight on society's lower strata. The story's raw realism and burning sexual charge left the moralistic high society of Paris in shock.
Carmen takes us to 1820's Seville, a setting Bizet's music recreated and reimagined masterfully although the composer had never visited Spain in his life. The heroine is a beautiful Roma woman who smokes cigars, gets into fights, uses her charms to get out of every complication, and lives every moment to the full.
Carmen wedges herself in the romance between the young soldier José and his wife-to-be Micaëla, causing personal and professional trouble for the two before heartlessly discarding him and getting involved with the toreador Escamillo. In the end, the heartbroken José confronts Carmen and, upon her repeated rejection, stabs her to death.
The plot's focus on sex, misogyny, Gypsies, smugglers, and other shady characters from society's underbelly did not sit well with the prudish critics of the time, but even in those early days nobody dared berate Bizet's fantastic score. After extensive research, the French composer integrated elements of Spanish folk and Oriental music to create the unique, instantly recognisable musical atmosphere which fuels Carmen's eternal popularity.
Already in the prelude, Bizet includes the well-known themes, bound together by an obstinate chromatic motif, as if to remind us of the unyielding power of fate. The leads' melodies are windows to their souls: Carmen's famous arias like the habanera 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle' or the seguidilla 'Près des remparts de Séville' reveal and develop her character beautifully, as do Escamillo's masculine Toreador song or José's meek duet with Micaëla 'Ma mère, je la vois'. The raw, timeless spectacle of Carmen comes to life again on the stage of Terme di Caracalla.