Saturday, May 14, 2011

Georges Bizet: Carmen's Ouverture

This is a clip of the Overture from Georges Bizet's Carmen, performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, conducted by James Levine.

Georges Bizet was born Georges Alexandre César Léopold Bizet to Adolphe and Aimée Bizet (née Delsarte) in Paris, France, on October 25, 1838. Bizet was born into a musical family, and entered the Paris Conservatoire (1848-1856)  to study piano and composition. He fits in within the tradition of Romantic composers. He wrote about thirty operas, Carmen being his most known and performed work.

Carmen (1875), an opera in four acts, is based on a novella of the same title written by the French writer Prosper Mérimée in 1846. Its setting is Seville, Spain, in the mid-nineteenth century. Its first performance was at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875, and it was neither a critical nor a commercial success, despite it running for 48 performances in three months.

The opera's subject of a Spanish gypsy, seduction, betrayal and murder was considered scandalous. One newspaper said: One commented: "Carmen presents most unsavory characters, in such bad taste that the work might very well be ill-advised." Like many things great, it took a while for cultural acceptance:
Bizet had put every ounce of his genius into Carmen, and its lukewarm reception was a bitter disappointment. Praise for it eventually came from well-known contemporaries including Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky. Brahms attended over twenty performances of it, and considered it the greatest opera produced in Europe since the Franco-Prussian War.

The views of these composers proved to be prophetic, as Carmen has since become one of the most popular works in the entire operatic repertoire. Carmen contains two of Bizet's most famous songs, the "Habanera" and "The Toreador's Song", which compete for popularity with the tenor-baritone duet "Au fond du temple saint" ("In the depths of the temple") from The Pearl Fishers.

However, Bizet did not live to see Carmen's success. He died from heart failure[10] at the age of 36 in Bougival (Yvelines), about 10 miles west of Paris.
Georges Bizet [1838-1875]: A photographic postcard taken and published between 1860 and 1875. "Love is rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and it's all in vain to call it if it chooses to refuse," Bizet once said.
Postcard: Verlag Hermann Leiser
Source: US Library of Congress Prints & Photograph Service.
Georges Bizet died of a heart attack just as the final curtain fell on the thirty-second performance at 2 am on June 3. 1875. After closing to disgrace in Paris, the show moved to Vienna and Brussels, where it was well-received. As was the case in London, Naples, New York and St Petersburg.

Five years after Georges Bizet's death, the opera was well-received and garnered all kinds of critical and public acclaim. It is today among the most popular operas performed.

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