“Carmen,” an opera in four acts with music by Georges Bizet and text by Meilhac and Halévy, was first produced at the Opéra Comique, Paris, March 3, 1875. It follows the story of Prosper Merimée, bearing the same title.
Don José, a brigadier. Escamillo, a toreador. Il Dancairo, Il Remendado, smugglers. Zuniga, a captain. Morales, a brigadier. Carmen, a gypsy. Michaela, a peasant girl. Frasquita, Mercedes, gypsies, friends of Carmen. Lillas Pastia, an innkeeper. A guide, officers, dragoons, lads, cigar girls, gypsies, smugglers.
The scene is laid in Seville, that favorite spot of opera writers. The date is 1820. The curtain rises upon the public square, where Don José and his soldiers are idly awaiting the coming, at the noon hour, of the girls employed in the cigar-factory near by. The most bewitching of them all is the gay, fickle, handsome, unprincipled Carmen, who with an acacia flower in her mouth and a bouquet in her bodice, strolls by apparently indifferent to her swarm of admirers. Seeing that Don José is thinking of another fair maid ” with flowing hair and dress of blue,” and is not mindful of her charms, she throws him a rose, and flits away. The coquetry is as effective as she hoped and it requires the appearance of the gentle Michaela, his own sweetheart, who comes to deliver a message and a kiss from his mother, to dispel the vision of her haunting eyes. Just as he is about to throw away the rose, he and his soldiers are summoned to the factory, where they find that Carmen, in a fit of passion, has stabbed one of the girls. She is arrested but opens up the battery of her charms again and Don José unties her hands and allows her to escape with the promise of meeting him that evening.
In the second act, she is found at the cabaret of Lillas Pastia near the ramparts, singing and dancing with gypsy friends and soldiers about her. Escamillo, a dashing toreador, comes in and Carmen at once finds in him a new admirer and one who especially appeals to her. Don José has been in prison for a month as punishment for having let her escape from arrest. His sentence ends tonight, however, and he comes direct to her. He grows jealous when she tells him of having danced for others but is content when she sings and dances for him alone. She tries to lure him to abandon his soldier life and to become a smuggler but he will not listen to her. His captain surprises him with Carmen, swords are drawn and there is nothing left for José to do but to join Carmen and her companions.
The third act opens in the haunt of the gypsies, who are also smugglers. Carmen has wearied of Don José, with his high ideas and his tiresome sensibility of conscience. She therefore welcomes the arrival of Escamillo with undisguised delight. Just as the rival suitors have been prevented from a duel by the gypsies, the gentle, forgiving Michaela comes with a message that Don José’s mother is dying and, reluctant even then, he leaves the field to Escamillo.
The action of the last act takes place on the day of a bull-fight at Seville of which Escamillo, the toreador, is to be the hero. Carmen and all the gypsies have accepted his invitation to be present. Don José has come and hopes to make an effort to regain Carmen. In her festal attire she meets him but his prayers and his anguish do not move her and, with characteristic bravado, she tells him that it is only Escamillo who is lord of her affections. Maddened, he tries to seize her, but she escapes, throws his ring at him and rushes to the arena to greet his rival. Don José over-takes her and just as the people acclaim Escamillo the hero of the bull-fight he stabs her through the heart.
” Carmen’s ” predecessors from the hand of Bizet were all more or less failures and even with “Carmen” the composer did not live to taste the satisfaction of success, for the great favor into which the work came was only gradual and Bizet died three months after the initial presentation. Today, however, the opera has but few equals in popularity throughout the entire music world.
Among the most admired numbers are the overture; the cigarette girls’ chorus; Carmen’s Habanera (a genuine Spanish tune), “L’amour est une oiseau rebelle ” (” Love like a wild bird “) ; the duet of Michaela and Don José, “Ma mère, je la vois ” (” My mother now I see “) ; the seguidilla, ” Près des ramparts ” (” Down by the walls “), sting by Carmen; the stirring toreador song; the famed romanza for José, ” La fleur que tu m’avais jettée” (” The flower which thou didst give me “) ; Carmen’s ” card-scene ” aria which she sings, following the fortune-telling duet for Frasquita and Mercedes and Michaela’s aria, ” Je dis que rien ” (” I say that nothing shall deter me “).