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1896 American production

Carmen is a French opéra comique by Georges Bizet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, itself influenced by the narrative poem The Gypsies (1824) by Alexander Pushkin. Mérimée had read the poem in Russian by 1840 and translated it into French in 1852.

The opera premiered at the Opéra-Comiquemarker of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority of critics. It was almost withdrawn after its fourth or fifth performance, and although this was avoided, ultimately having 48 performances in its first run, it did little to bolster sagging receipts at the Opéra-Comique. Near the end of this run, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance. Bizet died of a heart attack, aged 37, on 3 June 1875, never knowing how popular Carmen would become. In October 1875 it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity. It was not staged again at the Opéra Comique until 1883.

Since the 1880s it has been one of the world's most performed operas and a staple of the operatic repertoire. Carmen appears as number four on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.

Bizet's final opera not only transformed the opéra comique genre that had been static for half a century, it virtually killed it. Within a few years, the traditional distinction between opera (serious, heroic and declamatory) and opéra comique (light-hearted, bourgeois and conversational with spoken dialogue) disappeared. Moreover, Carmen nourished a movement that was to win both celebrity and notoriety first in Italy and then elsewhere: the cult of realism known as verismo.

The early death of Bizet and the negligence of his immediate heirs and publisher led, as with most of Bizet's operas, to major textual problems for which scholars and performers only began to find solutions since the 1960s.

The story is set in Sevillemarker, Spainmarker, c. 1830, and concerns the eponymous Carmen, a beautiful Gypsy with a fiery temper. Free with her love, she woos the corporal Don José, an inexperienced soldier. Their relationship leads to his rejection of his former love, mutiny against his superior, and joining a gang of smugglers. His jealousy when she turns from him to the bullfighter Escamillo leads him to murder Carmen.


Camille du Locle, the artistic director of the Opéra-Comiquemarker, commissioned Bizet to write an opera based on Mérimée's novel in early 1873 to be premiered at the end of the year. However, difficulty in finding a leading lady delayed rehearsals until August 1874. Bizet bought a house at Bougivalmarker on the Seinemarker, where he finished the piano score in the summer of 1874, and took a further two months to complete a full orchestration.

After approaching the singer Marie Roze, who declined the part, du Locle offered the part to the famous mezzo-soprano Galli-Marié. Financial negotiations over her fees ensued, and she accepted it in December 1873 (she agreed to 2,500 francs per month for four months). She apparently did not know the Mérimée novella.

During rehearsals, du Locle's assistant de Leuven voiced his discontent about the opera's plot, and pressured Bizet and the librettists to alter the tragic ending. De Leuven felt that families would be shocked to see such a "debauched" opera on the stage of the Opéra-Comique which had a reputation as a family-friendly theatre, with many boxes used by parents to interview prospective sons-in-law. The librettists agreed to change the ending, but Bizet refused, which led directly to de Leuven's resignation from the theatre in early 1874.

The librettists had toned down some of the more extreme elements of Mérimée's novella, although it has been argued that this, and Bizet's close involvement in shaping the libretto are more to do with his wish to get closer to the Pushkin source.

Full rehearsals finally began in October 1874. The Opéra-Comique's orchestra declared the score unplayable, and the cast were having difficulty following Bizet's directions. However, the greatest opposition came from du Locle, who liked Bizet personally, but hated the opera. At this stage, the Opéra-Comique was in financial difficulties, leading du Locle to believe the opera would topple the ailing company, which had failed to produce a true success since Charles Gounod's Faust.

The librettists, for whom Carmen "had little importance" (they had four other operas on stage in Paris at that time), secretly tried to induce the singers to over-dramatise in order to lessen the impact of the work. However, much to Bizet's delight, the final rehearsals seemed to convince the majority of the company of the genius of the opera.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 3 March 1875

(Conductor: Adolphe Deloffre)
Carmen, A Gypsy Girl mezzo-soprano Célestine Galli-Marié
Don José, Corporal of Dragoons tenor Paul Lhérie
Escamillo, Toreador bass-baritone Jacques Bouhy
Micaëla, A Village Maiden soprano Marguérite Chapuy
Zuniga, Lieutenant of Dragoons bass Eugène Dufriche
Moralès, Corporal of Dragoons baritone Edmond Duvernoy
Frasquita, Companion of Carmen soprano Alice Ducasse
Mercédès, Companion of Carmen mezzo-soprano Esther Chevalier
Lillas Pastia, an innkeeper spoken M. Nathan
Le Dancaïre, smuggler baritone Pierre-Armand Potel
Le Remendado, smuggler tenor Barnolt
A guide spoken M. Teste
Chorus: Soldiers, young men, cigarette factory girls, Escamillo's supporters, gypsies,

merchants and orange sellers, police, bullfighters, people, urchins.


Place: Sevillemarker, Spainmarker
Time: 1830
Note: in the Oeser version, Acts III and IV are played as Act III scene i and Act III scene ii respectively

Act 1

A square in Seville. On the right a cigarette factory, on the left a guard house, with a bridge at the back.

Moralès and the soldiers loiter before the guard house commenting on passers-by ("Sur la place, chacun passe"). Micaëla appears seeking Don José, a corporal, but is told by Moralès that he is not yet on duty, so why does not she stay and wait with them? She runs away saying that she will return later. Zuniga and José arrive with the new guard, imitated by a crowd of street-children ("Avec la garde montante").

The factory bell rings and the cigarette girls emerge from the factory, greeted by young men who have gathered to flirt with them ("La cloche a sonné"). The girls enter smoking cigarettes, and finally Carmen appears, and all the men ask her when she will love them ("Quand je vous aimerai?"). She replies in the famous Habanera ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle"): "Love is a rebellious bird that no one can tame [...] He has never known law. If you don't love me I love you, if I love you watch yourself!". When they plead for her to choose a lover from among them, ("Carmen! sur tes pas, nous nous pressons tous!") she tears a bunch of cassia from her bodice and throws it at Don José, who has been ignoring her, before going back into the factory with the others. José is annoyed by her insolence.

Micaëla returns and gives him a letter —and a kiss— from his mother ("Parle-moi de ma mère!"). José longingly thinks of his home, and reading the letter sees that his mother wants him to return and get married. Micaëla is embarrassed and leaves, but Don José declares that he will marry her.

As soon as she leaves, screams are heard from the factory and the women run out, singing chaotically ("Au secours! Au secours!"). Don José and Zuniga find that Carmen has been fighting with another woman, and slashed her face with a knife. Zuniga asks Carmen if she has anything to say, but she replies impudently with a song ("Tra la la"). Zuniga instructs José to guard her while he writes out the warrant for prison. The women go back into the factory and the soldiers to the guardhouse. To escape, Carmen seduces José with a Seguidilla ("Près des remparts de Séville") about an evening she will spend with her next lover who is "only a corporal"; José gives in and unties her hands. Zuniga returns, and Carmen allows herself to be led away but turns, pushes José to the ground, and as laughing cigarette girls surround Zuniga, she escapes.

Act 2

Evening at Lillas Pastia's inn, tables scattered around; officers and gypsies relaxing after dinner

It is two months later. Carmen and her friends Frasquita and Mercédès sing and dance ("Les tringles des sistres tintaient"). Lillas Pastia is trying to get rid of the officers, so Zuniga invites Carmen and her friends to come with him to the theatre, but she can only think of José, who was demoted and has been in jail since letting her escape, and was released the day before.

The sound of a procession hailing Escamillo passes by outside, and the toreador is invited in ("Vivat, vivat le Toréro"). Escamillo sings the Toreador song ("Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre"), and flirts with Carmen, but Carmen tells him that for the time being he need not dream of being hers.

When everyone except Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès have left, the smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado arrive and tell the girls of their plans to dispose of the contraband they have smuggled via Gibraltarmarker (Quintet: "Nous avons en tête une affaire"). Carmen refuses to accompany them, saying to their amazement that she is in love.

As José's voice is heard ("Halte là!"), Dancaïre tells Carmen she must try to get Don José to join them. Alone together, José returns a gold coin Carmen had sent him in jail and she orders fruit and wine to be brought.

Carmen vexes him with stories of her dancing for the officers but then dances with castanets for him alone ("Je vais danser en votre honneur...Lalala"). During her song the sound of bugles is heard calling the soldiers back to barracks.

Carmen's temper flares when José says he must leave, but he makes her listen by producing the flower she threw at him, which he kept while he was in prison and is proof of his love (the Flower Song — "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée"). Carmen is unmoved and asks him to join her gipsy life if he really loves her ("Non, tu ne m'aimes pas").

Her picture of a life of freedom tempts him but he finally refuses saying he will never be a deserter. He begins to leave when Zuniga enters hoping to find Carmen. Don José draws his sword on his superior officer, but before they can fight the smugglers burst in and disarm both of them. Zuniga is made a prisoner ("Bel officier") and José has no alternative but to flee with Carmen ("Suis-nous à travers la campagne").

Act 3

A wild and deserted rocky place at night

The smugglers along with Carmen and José are travelling with the contraband ("Écoute, écoute, compagnons"), but Carmen has grown tired of José, and does not conceal this, taunting him to return to his village.

Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès read the cards ("Mêlons! Coupons!"): Frasquita and Mercédès foresee love and romance, wealth and luxury; but Carmen's cards foretell death for both her and José ("En vain pour éviter les réponses amères"). The smugglers ask the girls to come and charm the customs officers ("Quant au douanier, c'est notre affaire") and everyone goes off, leaving the jealous José to guard the goods.

Micaëla arrives with a guide seeking José. She sends the guide away and vows to take Don José away from Carmen ("Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante"). She sees José firing a gun, and hides in the rocks. It was Escamillo whom José had fired at, but when he arrives José welcomes him, until he says he is infatuated with Carmen and tells José the story of her affair with a soldier, not realising José is that soldier.

José challenges Escamillo to a knife-fight, but Escamillo fights defensively, infuriating José. They start again and José finds himself at the mercy of Escamillo who releases him, saying his trade is killing bulls, not men. The third time they fight Escamillo's knife breaks, but he is saved by the return of the smugglers and Carmen ("Holà, holà José"). Escamillo leaves, but invites Carmen and the smugglers to his next bullfight in Seville.

Remendado finds Micaëla hiding, and she tells José that his mother wishes to see him. Carmen mocks him and at first he refuses to go ("Non, je ne partirai pas!"), until Micaëla tells him that his mother is dying. Vowing that he will return to Carmen, he goes.

As he is leaving, Escamillo is heard singing in the distance. Carmen rushes to the sound of his voice, but José bars her way.

Act 4

A square in front of the arena at Seville: the day of a bull-fight; bustling activity

It is the day of the contest to which Escamillo invited the smugglers. The square is full of people, with merchants and gypsies selling their wares ("À deux cuartos!"). Zuniga, Frasquita and Mercédès are among the crowd and the girls tell Zuniga that Carmen is now with Escamillo.

The crowd and children sing and cheer on the procession as the cuadrilla arrive ("Les voici! voici la quadrille"). Carmen and Escamillo are greeted by the crowds and express their love, Carmen adding that she had never loved one so much ("Si tu m'aimes, Carmen").

After Escamillo has gone into the fight, Frasquita warns Carmen that José is in the crowd ("Carmen! Prends garde!"), but Carmen scorns their fears. Before she can enter the arena she is confronted by the desperate José ("C'est toi? C'est moi!").

He begs her to return his love and start a new life with him far away. She calmly replies that she loves him no longer and will not give way — free she was born and free she will die.

Cheers are heard from the bull-ring and Carmen tries to enter, but José bars her way. He asks her one last time to come back, but she scornfully throws back the ring that he gave to her ("Cette bague, autrefois").

He stabs her ("Eh bien, damnée") as Escamillo is acclaimed in the arena, to the strains of the chorus of the ‘Toreador Song’, she dies. Don José kneels in despair beside her. The spectators flock out of the arena and find José ("Ah! Carmen! ma Carmen adorée!"), confessing his guilt over her dead body.

Performance history

The first performance took place on 3 March 1875, the same day that Bizet was awarded the Légion d'honneur. In the audience were not only various composers: Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet, Léo Delibes, Charles Lecocq and Jacques Offenbach, but also singers Hortense Schneider, Zulmar Bouffar, Anna Judic, Jean-Baptiste Faure; publishers such as Heugel, Choudens and Hartmann; Jules Pasdeloup, Alphonse Daudet and Dumas fils.

According to Halévy's diary, the premiere did not go well. Although there were curtain calls after Act I, and the entr'acte to Act II and Escamillo's song were applauded, Acts III and IV were greeted with silence, with the exception of Micaëla's aria in Act III. The critics were scathing, claiming that the libretto was inappropriate for the Comique. Bizet was also condemned by both sides of the Wagnerian debate, Ernest Reyer and Adolphe Jullien criticising him for not sufficiently embracing Wagner's style, while others condemned him for making the orchestra more important than the voices.

However, a few critics, such as Joncières and the poet Théodore de Banville, praised the work for its innovation. Banville lauded the librettists for writing characters that were more realistic than those normally seen at the Opéra-Comique. Nevertheless, with the negative reviews, the opera struggled to make 48 performances in the first production and closed the following January. Towards the end of the run, the management was giving away tickets wholesale in a vain attempt to fill the seats. D'Indy, who had been engaged early in the run to play a harmonium offstage to keep Lhérie in tune for "Halte-la, dragons d’Alcala!" in Act II, saw the audiences gradually dwindle up to the last night, 15 February 1876.

Bizet did not live to see the success of his opera: he died on 3 June, just after the thirtieth performance. The day before his death he signed a contract for a Viennese production of Carmen. Before long three leading composers in Europe would be counted among his admirers: Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Friedrich Nietzsche (in The Case of Wagner) hailed Bizet and exalted the exotic elements of the score, as well as its structural clarity; "it builds, organizes, finishes".

At this second production at the Hofopermarker in Vienna on 23 October 1875, the public had no stake in the traditions of the Opéra-Comique or the genre, and on the home turf of German music nothing recalled Wagner in the least, so they were able to appreciate Carmen on its own terms.

Following the well-received run in Vienna, the opera was seen in 1876 in Brussels (February), Antwerp (April) and Budapest (October); by 1878 it was being performed in St Petersburg, Stockholm, London, Dublin, New York and Philadelphia and in 1879 it reached Australia (Opera House, Melbournemarker, 14 May). The first performance in Spain was on 2 August 1881 at the Teatro Lirico Barcelona with Galli-Marié; Madrid saw it on 2 November 1887 at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. Galli-Marié re-created her portrayal of the title role in the first performance in Italy (Naples) in 1879, then Barcelona and England, and from 27 October 1883 in Paris again.

After the 1883 revival in Paris, it swiftly became popular there as well, reaching its 500th performance at the Opéra-Comique on 23 October 1891 and the 1,000th on 23 December 1904. Over the following century, it has remained part of the standard operatic repertoire.

The title role was written for a mezzo-soprano, but the full score published in 1877 introduced higher (soprano) alternatives for Carmen, and this has led to sopranos performing and recording the role; contraltos have also occasionally portrayed Carmen. The singer must not only have a great range, but also exhibit superior dramatic skills in order to portray Carmen's complex character, and be able to dance convincingly on stage.

Several pieces from this opera have become popular away from the stage. The Flower song, the Toréador's Song and the Habanera are favourites with singers. Two suites for orchestra were arranged by Fritz Hoffmann: the first consisting of the prelude and entr'actes, and the second of vocal numbers arranged for orchestra.

Dramatic elements

A poster for an 1896 American production with Rosabel Morrison
Carmen was extremely innovative in its drama: alternating comic or sentimental scenes found traditionally in opéra comique with stark realism. The initial controversy, even before the premiere, was about shocking aspects of the story, despite Bizet and his librettists' toning down of some elements of Mérimée's novella. The trouble with Carmen was that, while retaining the externals of the genre, such as spoken dialogue, it not only took its characters from proletarian life – a corporal, a promiscuous gypsy, a sporting idol – it dared to treat their emotions with absolute seriousness.

Carmen will always be a challenge for great singing actresses. Her availability to men (as she explains in the Habanera) is strictly on her terms. She is fatalistic and hedonistic, living entirely in the present moment. Carmen's fatalism is well illustrated in the card-playing scene, much revised by Bizet, in which she accepts the premonition of death. In Act I her reply to Zuniga when she is arrested is a translation from the Pushkin poem: "J’aime un autre et je meurs en disant que je l’aime", and anticipates phrases she will use at the end of the opera.Carmen is a woman prepared to give herself completely, aware of the magnitude in human terms of this decision but in turn she will demand the same from the one to whom she surrenders herself. Portrayed as "free, independent and mistress of all her decisions", Carmen's strength and capacity of expression, her calm acceptance of her fate, and especially of her death show her "interior security, strength of temperament, personality and beauty...".

José is ill-suited to Carmen's whims, expecting fidelity, unlike the other males in the opera, who perceive her as available to them. He dreams that he can possess and redeem her. Don José's descent and moral disintegration from simple and honourable soldier to a murderous brigand is plotted by librettists and composer "from connivance at Carmen's escape, through desertion, armed resistance to an officer and smuggling, to murder".

Carmen and José's scenes together represent the stages of their relationship. The Seguidilla in Act I is the seduction, the second in Act II is the conflict, and the last in Act IV —which the librettists by a brilliant stroke moved from the mountains (Mérimée) to outside the bullring— is the tragic resolution.

Micaëla and Escamillo, shadowy figures in the novella, are not as developed as the two protagonists; they would not be out of place in a traditional opéra comique. Micaëla corresponds to José's character and psychological environment before he met Carmen, while Escamillo represents a more typical male attitude to Carmen. Micaëla's music is developed from Gounod's lyric operas, whereas Escamillo is a musical cousin of Ourrias in Mireille. In Escamillo's 'Toreador Song' (where the singer is asked to sing 'fatuously'), Bizet knew that the song would be popular, but commented "They want their trash, and will get it".

Musical elements

Dean affirms that Bizet's score is a masterpiece of dramatic detachment. Bizet never interposes himself between the audience and his characters whose sufferings move us without intervention. In this classical approach his model was his favourite composer, Mozart, though there are parallels with Verdi as well. Mozartian likewise is the compound of richness and clarity in the orchestration and the unfailing aptness of musical form to dramatic situation.

The Prelude is in three sections: in A major the flamboyant Act IV ‘Spanish’ music of the bull-fight, then the ‘Toreador Song’, and finally a plunge into D minor and the motive marked by the augmented second, linked both to Carmen, and to Don José's fatal attraction to her, finishing on a diminished 7th chord.

Act I Introduction. The curtain rises with a pedal F which resolves to a tonic B flat only at the first cadence of the chorus; Moralès's solo leads back to a repeat of the chorus. After Micaëla's entry to a chromatic figure in the strings, the soldiers sing a mock military march (in E) to inform her about José's return at the change of guard. She mimics this chorus but jumps to G major as she leaves. The pantomime for Moralès (Bizet composed three versions for Duvernoy) was performed at the first 30 performances until cut, possibly with Bizet's consent, at the end of May 1875.

Bugle calls signal the change of guard, but a March for urchins led by piccolos undermines any military seriousness. Solo violin and cello in canon accompany the mélodrame where Moralès tells José that Micaëla has come to see him. A chorus in shifting metre brings the women on stage whose music evokes swaying languor; enharmonic slips in and out of flat keys reach a cadence, at which the men call for "Carmencita". The flourishes for her entrance are a speeded-up version of the augmented second theme from the Prelude. Bizet modelled the Habanera with graceful dotted rhythm and teasing chromatic melodies on a Cuban-style song then popular in cabarets, lending an aura of exoticism; after each verse Carmen sings a seductive countermelody on the word ‘l'amour’ over the chorus. The scene is set for Carmen's aria in the graceful dotted rhythm of the Habanera. Based on a descending chromatic scale, the Habanera follows a "verse and chorus" form; at the choral verse, and Carmen sings a seductive countermelody on the key word "l'amour.". The next short number includes the ‘fate’ motive from the prelude but with intimations of doom. After the women mockingly sing the Habanera refrain, the orchestra comments in a yearning style which will characterize José's music (he has yet to sing). Throughout this act, Guiraud's recitatives which replace the dialogue destroy the balance of music by recalling previous themes.

José development can be traced by the music alone: in Act I he is the simple countryman, his music in tune with Micaëla's. His duet with Micaëla begins with his first sung words "Parle-moi de ma mère"; Micaëla's music weaves her own feelings with those of José's mother. In the G major duet José briefly recalls Carmen's motif. After a short spoken scene, high violin trills shatter José's reverie, leading to the women's fight – this F# piece where two groups of women exchange short vocal entries requires considerable co-ordination from the chorus. In the following section Zuniga interrogates Carmen in speech, while she answers in wordless song; her insolence is echoed by solo flute, violin and cellos. The Seguidille is an original compound of song, dance and duet, in which Carmen's seduction of José is initiated, developed and carried to the point of capitulation by musical means alone. Muted strings accompany Carmen’s plotting, with a hushed four-part fugue in F minor, which will return in a rollicking A major at the curtain when Carmen escapes.

The entr’acte before Act II contains the song for José later in Act II when he approaches the tavern. The Act opens with a Gypsy song in E minor and celebrates Carmen's singing and dancing – and the feelings they arouse accelerating in a tour de force of orchestration. The toreador's couplets (F minor/F major) present his prowess in the bull-ring and with women. The refrain is marked 'piano avec fatuité'. A brilliant quintet for the smugglers and the gipsy girls is rapid-fire and conspiratorial, which only pauses when Carmen announces that she is in love. Carmen's castanet dance for José is barely scored – which leaves space for the bugle summoning José to barracks, harmonizing with her sensuous dance. The ‘fate’ theme on the cor anglais leads to a wide-raging solo – the ‘flower song’, where his passion for Carmen is more profound than his love for Micaëla ever was; the modulation in the last bars show his emotions have grown beyond his control. This long sequence which includes Carmen's dance, her quarrel with José, his flower song and the duet ‘La-bas, la bas dans la montagne’ – which Bizet refused to break into sections for applause and which leads straight into the finale – is a miracle of musical and dramatic development without recourse to recitative.

The second entr’acte paints the landscape of Act III with a serene arching melody on the flute over a harp accompaniment, with other instruments entering to converse with the flute. The act opens with a furtive march for the smugglers, who join in during the ‘trio’ section, their sliding back portrayed by a series of descending chromatic chords. When Carmen, Mercédès and Frasquita read the cards the refrain portrays it as a girlish game, but when Carmen reads her cards it is above a halting accompaniment foretelling death. The trio ends in F major, but after dialogue swings into G flat for a march in which Carmen and her companions boast of their prowess in distracting the guards, the middle section illustrating the ‘slippery’ nature of Carmen, with chromaticism and enharmonic pivots. Micaëla's air in E flat with prominent parts for four horns is near to conventional opéra comique style; her feelings expressed by her are a foil to Carmen. Escamillo and José's fight duet builds to a blustering climax and ends on a diminished 7th as José lunges to kill his opponent. The Act III finale intensifies everything leading up to it, with Escamillo going off to a dreamy D flat version of his Act II couplets, the discovery of Micaëla and José's agitation driving the music to the emotional climax of the opera, "Dût-il m’en couter la vie". The repetition of the passage a few moments later in G (rather than G flat) is an electrifying stroke. The scene closes with the smuggler's march that opened the act, now in F. This whole section, the only involving all four protagonists, plays the musical styles of the characters against one another to maximum effect.

The entr’acte before Act IV is the most exotic, with sharp rhythms, exotic percussion, chromaticism and descending tetrachords. A sense of excitement is generated with constant quaver accompaniment; as the toreros enter, the crowds celebrate with the theme from the opening of the Prelude; they burst into the Toreador's song when they see Escamillo. The short duet for Carmen and Escamillo allows them to express their feelings separately, then in unison (unanimity absent from Carmen and José's scenes). The finale opens with short exchanges between José and Carmen; his hysteria has given way to a grim and hard desperation. Bizet here anticipates the device so often used by Puccini of writing for voice and bass in octaves with the harmony in between. Songs and cries are heard offstage (in the arena), and as he stabs her the Toreador's song and the fate motive appear together. It had been conventional in opéra comique to have a joyful chorus at the end, but not off-stage, and not as an ironic counterpart to the stage action. The opera concludes with two open octaves in F#.

When asked if he would visit Spain to research his score, Bizet replied "No, that would only confuse me." Several popular Spanish songs are adapted in the score. These include El arreglito which became the habanera, and the folk-song Carmen impudently sings when interrogated by Zuniga; both written by Yradier. The habanera was written to replace an aria that Galli-Marié disliked, and Bizet supposedly wrote over ten revisions. The Act IV entr'acte seems to be influenced by a Spanish song by Manuel García, incorporating elements of gypsy music.

The motif associated with Carmen is used in several forms. The first is heard directly after the Prelude and prefigures the ending of the opera. It is heard in this form when Carmen chooses José as her lover, at the beginning of the Flower Song, and during the opera's final moments. It is also heard, in its faster form, at the entrance of Carmen, and notably during the card playing scene. Bizet's use of the motto theme in Carmen is simple but supremely effective. Its appearances are never mechanical; it always carries a load of dramatic irony. The ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ forms occur admirably adapted to its purpose and is never run to death.

The other theme associated with Carmen represents her influence over José. It is heard after José is chosen as Carmen's lover, and when Carmen is taken away by the police to José and Zuniga. In a sequence cut from the original edition, placed in the frenzied chorus of women in Act I, the two themes are played contrapuntally.

The orchestration has been much praised; Richard Strauss advised young composers "if you want to learn how to orchestrate, don’t study Wagner's scores, study the score of Carmen. What wonderful economy, and how every note and every rest is in its proper place".

Bizet dedicated the score to Jules Pasdeloup.


Bizet's original plan for Carmen was with spoken dialogue. After Bizet's death, his friend Ernest Guiraud wrote recitatives for the Vienna premiere in 1875. These were used everywhere except at the Opéra-Comique, where a shortened dialogue version remained in the repertory into the 1950s (with one piece of Guiraud recitative for Micaëla in Act III). On 10 November 1959, Carmen moved to the Paris Opéramarker, "in a bloated and spectacular production involving an enormous cast, human and animal ... most of Guiraud's recitatives, and the attendance of President de Gaulle". The recitatives are seen as damaging to the work as a whole; they destroy Bizet's careful pacing, and disrupt the process of characterization significantly. Found in every score from 1875 to 1964, and inserted without apology by the publisher, they are sometimes still used in large theaters, such as the Metropolitan, where spoken dialogue is difficult to project.

A new edition in 1964 edited by Fritz Oeser claimed to have restored Bizet's original vision by including material cut from the premiere as well as restoring the dialogue. Unfortunately, Oeser did not realise that a great deal was cut by Bizet himself before the first performance in order to achieve dramatic concentration. Oeser also made great changes to the stage directions and rewrote some of the libretto. The only score with the authority of the composer is the 1875 vocal score.

Most recordings since the publication of Oeser edition juggle the Opéra-Comique, Oeser and Guiraud versions. The 1970 de Burgos recording includes the Act I pantomime scene with Moralès and chorus. The recording conducted by Michel Plasson features an earlier variant of Carmen's Habanera ("L'amour est enfant de bohème"), as well as the familiar one. Sir Georg Solti's recording mostly follows the Opéra-Comique score, with some additions from Oeser, including a different version of the Act III opening, an extended fight scene in Act I, and (with some cuts) the original dialogue.


Year Cast
(Carmen, José, Micaëla, Escamillo)
Opera House and Orchestra
Label Version
1908 Emmy Destinn,
Karl Jörn,
Minnie Nast,
Hermann Bachmann

Unknown conductor,
Unknown orchestra,
sung in German

Audio CD: Aura Music
Cat: LRC 1900
1911 Marguerite Mérentié,
Agustarello Affre,
Aline Vallandri,
Henri Albers

François Ruhlmann,
Chœur de l'Opéra-Comique,
l'Orchestre Symphonique


1927 Lucy Perelli,
Jose de Trevi,
Yvonne Brothier,
Louis Musy

Piero Coppola,
Chœur et Orchestre de l'Opéra-Comique
HMV / Victor

1928 Raymonde Visconti,
Georges Thill,
Marthe Nespoulous,
Louis Guénot

Élie Cohen,
Chœur de l'Opéra-Comique,
l'Orchestre Symphonique de Paris

Audio CD: Columbia Recording
Cat: 27809
(Remastered on Pristine Audio)

1942 Germaine Cernay,
Raymond Berthaud,
Ginette Guillamat,
Lucien Lovano

Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht,
Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: Malibran — Music,
originally broadcast on Radio Provence
1950 Solange Michel,
Raoul Jobin,
Martha Angelici,
Michel Dens

André Cluytens,
Chœur et Orchestre de l'Opéra-Comique
Audio CD: Naxos Historical
Cat: 8.110238-39
1951 Risë Stevens,
Jan Peerce,
Licia Albanese,
Robert Merrill

Fritz Reiner,
RCA Victor Orchestra
Audio CD: RCA Victor Red Seal
ASIN: B000003ESM
1951 Suzanne Juyol,
Libera de Luca,
Janine Micheau,
Julien Giovannetti

Albert Wolff,
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra-Comique
Audio CD: Preiser (originally Decca)

1959 Victoria de los Ángeles,
Nicolai Gedda,
Janine Micheau,
Ernest Blanc

Sir Thomas Beecham,
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Audio CD: EMI Classics
1964 Maria Callas,
Nicolai Gedda,
Andrea Guiot,
Robert Massard

Georges Prêtre,
Orchestre du Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris
Audio CD: EMI Classics
ASIN: B000002RXS
1963 Leontyne Price,
Franco Corelli,
Mirella Freni,
Robert Merrill

Herbert von Karajan,
Vienna Philharmonic orchestra,
Vienna State Opera chorus

Audio CD: RCA Victor
Cat: 6199-2-RG
1967 Grace Bumbry,
Jon Vickers,
Mirella Freni,
Justino Díaz

Herbert von Karajan,
Vienna Philharmonic orchestra,
Vienna State Opera chorus

DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4032
1970 Grace Bumbry,
Jon Vickers,
Mirella Freni,
Kostas Paskalis

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos,

& Orch. of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 724358550528
1973 Marilyn Horne,
James McCracken,
Adriana Maliponte,
Tom Krause

Leonard Bernstein,
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 0 28942 74402 8
1975 Tatiana Troyanos,
Plácido Domingo,
Kiri Te Kanawa,
José van Dam

Sir Georg Solti,
John Alldis Choir, choristers from Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' Schoolmarker, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca
Cat: 414 489-2

1977 Teresa Berganza,
Plácido Domingo,
Ileana Cotrubaş,
Sherrill Milnes

Claudio Abbado,
London Symphony Orchestra
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
ASIN: B000001G89
1978 Elena Obraztsova,
Plácido Domingo,
Isobel Buchanan, Yuri Mazurok

Carlos Kleiber,
Wiener Staatsopermarker orchestra and chorus
Cat: 8 24121 00097 4
1983 Agnes Baltsa,
José Carreras,
Katia Ricciarelli,
José van Dam

Herbert von Karajan,
Berliner Philharmoniker
Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon
ASIN: B000001G4J
1984 Julia Migenes,
Plácido Domingo,
Faith Esham,
Ruggero Raimondi

Lorin Maazel,
Orchestre National de France,
Chorus and Children's Chorus of Radio France
(Film directed by Francesco Rosi)

DVD: Sony Pictures
ASIN: B000022TSV
(Carmen )

1988 Jessye Norman,
Neil Shicoff,
Mirella Freni,
Simon Estes

Seiji Ozawa,
Orchestre National de France
French National Radio Chorus

Audio CD: Philips
Cat: V 72473
Agnes Baltsa,
José Carreras,
Leona Mitchell,
Samuel Ramey

James Levine,
Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 0009
2003 Angela Gheorghiu,
Roberto Alagna,
Inva Mula, Thomas Hampson

Michel Plasson,
Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse
Audio CD:EMI Classics
ASIN: B000083GOD
Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is product reference number.



A number of classical composers have used themes from Carmen as the basis for works of their own.

Some of these, such as Pablo de Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy (1883) for violin and orchestra, Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasie (1946) for violin and orchestra and Vladimir Horowitz's Variations on a theme from Carmen for solo piano are virtuoso showpieces in the tradition of fantasia on operatic themes.

Ferruccio Busoni wrote a Sonatina (No. 6) for piano named Fantasia da camera super Carmen (1920), which uses themes from the opera. There are also two suites of music drawn directly from Bizet's opera, often recorded and performed in orchestral concerts.


The following is a list of film adaptations, based on the opera and/or the novella.

Dance and theater


The Habanera theme from Carmen was adapted by Michael Giacchino for use in a scene in the 2009 digital animation motion picture Up.


  1. The novella was first published in 1845 in serial form in La Revue des Deux Mondes, and in book form in 1847 (from French Wikipedia page).
  2. Hammond A. Music Note in programme for Carmen. Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 1984.
  3. Briggs A D. Did Carmen come from Russia? in English National Opera programme, 2004; the poem also forms the basis of Rachmaninov's one-act opera Aleko.
  4. Curtiss M. Bizet and his world. New York, Vienna House, 1958, Chapter XXVII
  5. Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900–1950). André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  6. Curtiss M. Bizet and his world. New York, Vienna House, 1958, Chapter XXVII, p. 426.
  7. Tanner, p. 237
  8. OPERA America's "The Top 20" list of most-performed operas
  9. Dean W. Carmen's place in history. Booklet to Decca recording conducted by Solti, 1976.
  10. Dean W. Bizet. London, J M Dent & Sons, 1978. See Appendix F: The Cult of the Masters in France.
  11. Briggs A D, op cit. He argues that the concepts of freedom and destiny are enhanced in the opera by Bizet's attempt in part to return to the Pushkin poem.
  12. Dean, Bizet, Georges
  13. Revised using Synopsis in booklet accompanying Decca records DIID 3, based on Bizet's intentions given in the 1875 vocal score.
  14. McClary S. George Bizet, Carmen; Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  15. Curtiss M. Bizet and his world. New York, Vienna House, 1974.
  16. Dean W. Bizet. London, JM Dent & Sons, 1978; p. 129.
  17. Curtiss M. Bizet and his world. New York, Vienna House, 1974: p. 426–7.
  18. Brown D. Tchaikovsky: the crisis years (1874–1878). London, Gollancz, 1992; p. 58–60.
  19. McClary S. George Bizet, Carmen; Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  20. Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788–1814
  21. Kertesz E, Christoforidis M. Confronting Carmen beyond the Pyrenees: Bizet's opera in Madrid 1887–88. Cambridge Opera Journal, 20:1, March 2008, p. 79–110. Contemporary Spanish critics condemned the 'Spanish' music in the opera.
  22. Wright L A. Galli-Marié in New Grove Dictionary of Opera ed Sadie S. London & New York, Macmillan, 1997.
  23. Loewenberg A. Annals of Opera. London, John Calder, 1978.
  24. Dean W. Bizet. London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1978. Appendix F: The Cult of the Masters in France.
  25. Forbes E. Carmen, in Sadie, S: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. London & New York, Macmillan, 1997.
  26. Hammond A. Music Note in programme for Carmen. Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 1984.
  27. Berganza T. The real Carmen in Programme for Carmen. Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 1984.
  28. McClary S. George Bizet, Carmen; Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  29. Forbes E. Carmen, in Sadie, S: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. London & New York, Macmillan, 1997.
  30. Reserved for only three key moments in the opera. Wright LA. A musical commentary. In: Carmen, English National Opera guide. John Calder, London, 1982.
  31. Description of music based on McClary S. George Bizet, Carmen; Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, Dean W. Bizet. London, J M Dent & Sons, 1978, Wright LA. A musical commentary. In: Carmen, English National Opera guide. John Calder, London, 1982, and MacDonald H. Carmen. In: New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  32. Better known as the composer of another habanera "La Paloma", written about 1860 shortly after a visit to Cuba, which was an extremely popular song in Spain, Latin America, and also the United States
  33. Wright LA. A musical commentary. In: Carmen, English National Opera guide. John Calder, London, 1982.
  34. Quoted by George Szell in The Szell transcripts (conversations with Paul Myers). Gramophone, February 1971, p. 1291.
  35. Curtiss states that the producer Jauner nonetheless retained dialogue for "personal or human scenes". Curtiss M. Bizet and his world. New York, Vienna House, 1958.
  36. Dean W. Bizet. London, JM Dent & Sons, 1978, McClary S. George Bizet, Carmen; Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  37. Carmen de Ramón Oller
  38. Carmen, The Passion
  39. EFE, Reguetoneros presentan el musical "Flow", adaptación moderna de la ópera "Carmen", 16 September 2009. Accessed 12 October 2009.
  40. Coleman, Christopher, “Giacchino's UP gets a huge "thumbs up" from me. The experience of his original score went from mediocre to marvelous with a single viewing of the film", on


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