THE prelude to Carmen is built on several characteristic themes ; it is the sketch on which the colours of the picture are tried. Without preparation, on a rhythm, symmetrical and even hard, a fanfare bursts forth, an almost vulgar figure, but joyous and dizzying: it is the fanfare of the bull-fight. This is really the motiv of Escamillo, the refrain of a bully and a dandy, well-made like the brilliant torero, but, like him, without nobility, and almost without thought. After this musical portraiture come the action and the heroine. An abrupt silence arrests the resounding brass; then to a fierce tremolo on the violins is clingingly attached and with a kind of hatred a short phrase of strange intonations, which resembles a caress, but a savage and deadly caress. This phrase is Carmen’s device: it announces the coming of the Gitana and follows her until deaths One of the peculiar effects throughout the work is the predominance of the monotonous Moorish minor scale with the refranes which are used as a kind of choral obbligato in Spain. This gives an Oriental and farouche quality to the work.
ACT I. – A public square in Seville ; right, the gate of a tobacco manufactory with a stairway leading to a bridge at the back ; left, a guard-house before which the Dragoons of Almanza are smoking and idly commenting in their chorus, Sur la place, upon the people who pass. As Micaëla (soprano), a young girl, enters, the orchestra becomes annimated, and quite in sympathy with her timidity, embarrassment, and coquetry. She informs Morales, an officer, that she is looking for Don José. Morales thinks he may be-long to the guard, soon coming to replace them. Micaëla refuses the soldiers’ entreaties to remain, and leaves.
A distant march is heard with trumpets and bugles on the stage. The soldiers take their lances and form, the march sounds nearer, and the relief-guard enters across the bridge, followed by street boys who imitate the Dragoons and sing, Avec la garde montante, a chorus remarkable with regard to rhythm, melody, and instrumentation. ” Quick at their heels we follow the guards ; sound the trumpets, Ta, ra-ta-ta. Shoulders back, chests forward, left foot, right foot, follow the guards, Ta, ra-ta-ta ! ” The officers salute, the sentry is changed, and Morales tells Don José that a pretty girl, with flowing hair and dressed in blue, was asking for him. ” It must be Micaëla,” Don José replies. The first detachment of soldiers march out, followed by the street boys repeating their chorus. The arriving officer, Zuniga (bass), breaks ranks and the Dragoons, placing their lances in the rack, enter the guard-house, leaving Don José and Zuniga. The latter remarks that cigarette-girls are employed in the opposite building. Don José cares nothing about them ! Zuniga knows who occupies his thoughts, a fair young girl named Micaëla, who wears a blue petticoat ! Don José acknowledges that he loves Micaëla, and doubts if any such beauty may be found across the way. But the girls are coming out. The factory-bell rings and the Square fills with young men. The soldiers also enter. Don José, seated, works at a chain. In the chorus, La cloche a sonné, the men admit that they have come to see the girls. The girls enter, smoking cigarettes. How boldly they stare ! They will not cease smoking ! The cigarette-girls sing in praise of smoke, Dans l’air nous suivons des yeux. ” Carmencita is not here ! ” the soldiers say, but now she comes; and, with an acacia flower between her red lips and a bouquet in her bodice, a swinging gait, and an indifferent, yet conscious, manner, Carmen enters. The young men surround her; Don José looks at her and resumes his work. The men ask, “Will she ever fall in love ? ” Carmen does n’t know ; perhaps never, perhaps to-morrow but not to-day ! After these strange phrasés of laughing mockery and scorn, Carmen sings her Habanera a Spanish song, L’ amour est un oiseau rebelle, the idea of which is ” Love is a wilful bird; who can tame him ? Sometimes he chooses the coldest heart and refuses ardent homage. Ah, love ! Ah, love ! ” Her refrain, Je t’aime, prends garde à toi, is taken up by the chorus. At the end of her song, she throws the flowers from her bodice to Don José, who has not noticed her. As she runs away, the orchestra bursts forth with an explosion of passion. Don José rises suddenly; the girls and people laugh ; the factory-bell rings; and every one disperses.
Don José, alone, picks up the flowers. What a saucy air she had ! The flowers have fallen into his heart ! How sweet they are ! If there are enchantresses in the world, surely she is one! Don José is seized with a sudden passion for the beautiful, audacious Carmen.
Micaëla enters. Don José is delighted to see her. Micaëla brings a letter and some money from his mother, a Dragoon has never too much ! His mother bade Micaëla take the little trip to Seville and seek out Don José, and give him the letter and a kiss. Don José and Micaëla sing a duet, ma mere, je le vois, reminiscences of home in the valley. How Don José wishes to see his loved mother ! Then, looking towards the factory, he hopes that if ever he is led into evil, his mother may save him. Micaëla does n’t understand. She will return home this evening ! Then she must give his mother this kiss with fond messages ! He also kisses the letter, and Micaëla leaves, promising to come back. Don José reads the letter, and exclaims : ” Do not fear, mother I love Micaëla, and r This song is borrowed from Iradier’s Album des Chansons Espagnoles,” but, of course, the orchestral accompaniment is new.
she shall be my wife!” He is about to take Carmen’s flowers from his waistcoat, when a great noise is heard within the factory. The time changes to Allegro vivace, the orchestra is agitated, and the cigarette-girls rush out. Zuniga is told that Carmencita is the offender. There has been a quarrel and a fight. Zuniga bids Don José take two Dragoons and investigate. The soldiers clear the Square. Presently Don José appears with Carmen, and says the girl is wounded, and by Carmen. At Zuniga’s charge, Carmen insolently refuses to confess, singing mockingly, ” Tra, la, la.” He speaks to a soldier, who brings a rope, during which Carmen still sings impertinently. “It is a great pity,” Zuniga remarks, “but pretty as she is, she is headstrong, and her hands must be tied.” Her hands are fastened, and she is left alone with Don José.
Carmen wants to know where she is to go. ” To prison,” Don José replies, “and I am to take you.” Carmen is sure he will not ; she knows he loves her ; the flowers have already done their work ! Don José commands silence ; but Carmen has determined to charm him, and sings her Seguidilla. “Near the ramparts of Seville is Lillas Pastia’s inn ; there she will go to dance the gay Seguidilla and drink Manzanilla” (Prés des remparts de Séville). Don José again commands silence. Carmen is singing to herself, not to him ! She is thinking of a handsome officer whom she could make very happy. Don José unties her hands, confessing he is bewitched. The orchestra follows Carmen sympathetically, and when Don José is really in her power, it breaks out with a hard and harsh accompaniment, culminating in a cry of wicked triumph. The officers are coming; Carmen seats herself, with her hands behind her back; she will push Don José and he must fall ! She goes off with the Dragoons and Don José.; the crowd enter and are kept back by the soldiers ; and Carmen sings gaily that ” Love will stand no fetters, and whoever loves her,beware!” (Prends garde à toi). At the bridge she pushes Don José, who falls, and in the confusion Carmen escapes, stopping on the bridge to throw away the rope. Then she runs off, while the cigarette-girls laugh.
ACT II. A short entr’acte, containing Don José’s song Halte-là and the quintette, Nous avons en tête une affaire, treated symphonically, leads into a gipsy dance with Basque tambourines and castanets. The curtain rises upon Lillas Pastia’s posada. Frasquita and Mercedes, gipsy girls, Zuniga and Morales are with Car-men. Other officers are smoking, two gipsies play the guitar, others dance and look on. Carmen is ignoring Zuniga’s attentions. Suddenly she rises and sings her trio with Frasquita and Mercedes, Les tringles des sistres tintaient. During the burden of the song, the gipsies dance, and Frasquita and Mercedes join in the ” Tra la la la.” Carmen dances towards the end, and sinks exhausted on a seat. Frasquita announces that Pastia wants to close the inn. Carmen persists in staying. As Zuniga tells her that the officer put in prison on her account has just been released, a song is heard in the distance. The chorus sings, Vivat ! vivat le Toréro ! Zuniga, going to the window, thinks it the victor of the bull-ring of Granada. The chorus is repeated, and Escamillo, the famous bullfighter (baritone), enters.
Certainly Escamillo will be delighted to drink with them, Votre toast je peux le rendre. ” Soldiers and toréadors alike delight in combats. How splendid when the Circus is crowded with spectators and every one, wild with excitement, is cheering and clamouring begging him to be on his guard, Toréador, en garde, bright eyes are looking, and love is the prize ! ” At his pause, Carmen fills Escamillo’s glass. Escamillo begins his second verse. “There is silence in the arena. Why ? Here comes the bull, leaping furiously from the Toril; already he has gored a horse and a picador has fallen. Bravo, bull ! The people are shrieking. He rushes about madly, the ring is full of blood. Every one throbs with terror. L’amour attend, O Toréador. Toréador, en garde !
All drink and clasp the Toreador’s hand. The officers prepare to leave, but Escamillo approaches Carmen, whose expressive “l’amour” has attracted him. He would like to know her name. “It is Carmen or Carmencita.” ” But, if one loved her, what then ? ” ” He must not ! ” Escamillo will wait and hope. Zuniga tells Carmen he will return, and all leave, singing, ” Toréador en garde.” Escamillo departs. The three gipsies stay. Lillas Pastia shuts the windows and goes out.
Il Dancairo and Il Remendado, smugglers, enter. They want the help of these girls. ” Whenever there is a question of cheating, women ought to be of the party.” The buffa quintette, Nous avons en tete une affaire, is a swift and half-whispered chatter between the smugglers and gipsies.
Carmen refuses to accompany them, for she is in love. They beg her to go, but she intends to stay here. The Dragoon is coming. There is his voice ! In the distance Don José is heard with his Halte-là ! This is his characteristic melody. All look through the shutters. Yes, he is handsome; he would make a good smuggler! Car-men must make him join them ! They leave. Don José’s voice draws nearer and he enters. ” Thou hast Come at last ! ” is Carmen’s greeting. She learns that he was two months in prison and that he adores her. The officers were here a short while ago ; Carmen had to dance for them ! Don José is jealous. Carmen will dance for him (duet, je vais danser en votre honneur). Don José sits down and watches her with fascinated gaze. Carmen accompanies herself with castanets. Suddenly the bugle sounds. Don José starts. He must go. Carmen continues dancing ; the bugle sounds nearer. ” That is my order to return to quarters,” says Don José, catching Carmen by the arm. Carmen is furious. She throws his cap to him. Take cap, sabre, pouch, and go then ! Carmen thought he loved her ! Don José, still holding Carmen, shows her the flowers she threw to him, La fleur que vous m’ avez jetée. Carmen joins the duet. If he loved her, he would go with her far away into the mountains ; no more disturbing officers, no more trumpets separating lovers ! ” Là-bas, là-bas dans la montagne, liberty freedom if thou lov’st me ! ” Don José will not be a deserter. Then go, and farewell forever. Carmen hates him ! A knocking is heard. The finale begins with ” Qui frappe,” from Don José. Zuniga enters, is furious, and bids Don José leave. He refuses. Zuniga strikes him, and Don José draws his sword. At Carmen’s call for help, the smugglers enter, and she points to the officer, whom they seize. Carmen mockingly sings, Bel officier. The smugglers draw pistols and control Zuniga ; it is his turn to march. Car-men turns to Don José. Will he come now ? Don José cannot refuse, ” Es-tu des nôtres maintenant? It is a pleasant life under the sky, a wandering life, lawless and free. O liberty, liberty ! ”
ACT III. After a prelude, the curtain rises upon the retreat of the smugglers in the mountains. It is night. Carmen, Don José, Frasquita, Mercedes, Il Dancairo, and Il Remendado are grouped about the rocks. Smugglers with heavy bales ascend the peak. The opening chorus, Écoute, écoute, is in praise of smuggling. I1 Dancairo and Il Remendado leave. The gipsies light a fire, near which Frasquita and Mercedes seat themselves; others wrap them-selves in their mantles and go to sleep. Don José goes to the back ; Carmen asks what he is looking at. Below in the valley dwells a woman who believes in him,his mother ! Carmen suggests he goes to her. No, if she says that again he lays his hand on his knifeit will be death.
Carmen joins Frasquita and Mercedes, who have drawn out a pack of cards. Don José throws himself upon the rocks.
Frasquita begins the famous trio, Melons ! coupons ! They tell their fortunes. Carmen, who has been watching, would like to know hers. “Diamonds! spades ! En vain pour éviter les responses amères. In vain ; the cards deceive not death (La mart I), a grave, first to me, then to him ; but,” she lays the cards down, ” Carmen will defy it, even if it must come ! ”
The chief smugglers enter again. Don José must remain and watch the bales ; the girls must go and distract the three coastguards. The latter is Carmen’s suggestion, and a morceau d’ensemble follows, Quant au douanier. All leave, followed by Don José, examining his gun.
A guide appears, beckoning to some one and exit. Micaëla enters (recit., C’est des contrebandiers). While waiting to see Don José, again with a message from his mother, she sings her aria, 7e dis que rien ne m’epouvante. Micaèla is frightened in this lonely place; she appeals to Heaven for protection ; perhaps, too, she shall see that dreadful beauty for whom he has sacrificed honour ! There he is on the rock ! Her heart fails. Heavens, he fires ! Micaëla runs away.
Escamillo appears, then Don José. Escamillo showing his hat says if the aim had been a little higher, he would have been killed ! Don José demands his name. “I am Escamillo, toreador of Granada,” is the answer, 7e suis Escamillo. Don José welcomes him. In the fine duet Don José learns that Escamillo has come here in search of his love, a handsome gipsy ; her name is Car-men ; she was lately in love with a Dragoon who deserted for her, but she is tired of him now. Although Carmen’s love lasts but six months, he loves her madly ! Don José makes himself known, and they prepare to fight, drawing their knives and each wrapping his left arm in his cloak. Carmen enters with Il Dancairo and checks Don José. ” Holà ! Holà, Don José ! ” The other gipsies and smugglers enter. Escamillo thanks Carmen for saving his life; he will meet Don José again, and, inviting all to a bull-fight at Seville, he nonchalantly saunters away. The smugglers keep Don José back. He turns to Carmen, but she shrugs her shoulders scornfully and moves off. Some one lurks about. Il Remendado goes to investigate, and enters with Micaëla. She has come for Don José; he will not leave Carmen, although she bids him do so ; this life is not for him! When Micaëla says his mother is dying, Don José decides to go. He will come to Carmen again; she belongs to him ! At this moment the ” Toréador en garde” is heard in the distance. Escamillo is singing that the brightest of all eyes are waiting for him with the prize of love. Don José hesitates, but accompanies Micaëla. Carmen leans against a rock, watching him, and the gipsies prepare to move.
ACT IV. The entr’ acte, with its wild rhythms, prepares us for the day of the bull-fight. The curtain rises upon a square in Seville near the entrance of the arena; the square is crowded with vendors of fans, water, oranges, cigarettes, programmes, and various articles, singing A’ deux cuartos. Zuniga and Morales enter with Frasquita and Mercedes, and the vendors besiege them. Then others dance a Fandango to the tambourine and castanets. Suddenly they stop, for trumpets are heard. They exclaim : ” Here come the bands of the Toreadors, Les voici. First will come the Alguazil, let us hiss him, A bas l’Alguazil; then we will salute those brave and handsome banderilleros, with all their banners, here they come now ! Just look at their beautiful gold lace ! Then the most important of all, here he comes, C’est l’espada. Hail to him and his brave sword ! Hail to brave Escamillo ! Long may he live ! ” Escamillo enters with Carmen on his arm, both in brilliant costumes. If Carmen loves him, she will be proud of Escamillo presently ! Carmen replies, ” May death be my lot, if my heart loves any one but thee ! ” The trumpets blare, and soon trumpeters enter, followed by the Alguazils. ” Place for the Alcalde ! ” is the next cry, and this dignitary enters. Frasquita and Mercedes steal to Carmen and beg her to leave, for Don José is lurking in the crowd. Carmen is no coward to tremble at Don José ! Let him speak if he will ! The cavalcade defiles to the exciting march of the picadores heard in the opening prelude, and all the spectators pass in. Carmen remains alone. Don José joins her. Carmen informs him that she was warned about him, but she does not fear. Don José has come to weep and implore, not to threaten : a new life must begin for them ! Don José will turn smuggler, anything for her ! Carmen knows not falsehood ; all is ended, Don José !
There is time, Carmen, I would save thee,” he answers. “No,” says Carmen, “I know the hour has come, but, in life or death, my heart is not thine ! ” The trumpets play gaily in the Circus, the cries of the people, whom we imagine are sitting under the blue sky in the dazzling sun, describe the furious bull, the fine fight, and the bravery of the espada whose sword has pierced the raging animal. Carmen and Don José listen. At the praises to Escamillo, Carmen exclaims in joy and moves nearer to the Circus. Don José intercepts. ” Let me pass ! ” Carmen commands. No, she shall not go to the man she prefers to Don José! Carmen angrily and passionately declares her love for Escamillo, although she must die for it ! Again fanfares break through this stormy scene, and the people cry, ” Victory ! ” Carmen throws a ring which Don José gave her to him, and Don José draws his poniard. Now the toreador song is heard ” the brightest of all eyes await him, the prize is love ! ” Don José stabs her, and as the people stream from the arena, he yields himself a prisoner and drops near Carmen. Escamillo, now appearing, calls sorrowfully upon his “adored Carmen,” as the curtain falls.