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Georges Bizet and “Carmen”

French composer Georges Bizet hit an unfortunate daily double: He died young and his career epitomizes the artist whose work is unappreciated until he is gone.

Bizet was born in Paris in 1838. The Wikiepedia profile says that he was a “brilliant” student and won many awards. The problem, apparently, was that his compositions were too far ahead of their time. His career didn’t go anywhere, and he made a living arranging and transcribing work by others.

He wanted to be a success, however, and started many projects. Many of them were not finished.

That all changed but, unfortunately, he was not around to see it. The premier of his enduring masterpiece, “Carmen,” was delayed because of the sensitivity of its themes of betrayal and murder. It finally was performed – on March 3, 1875 – and he was convinced it was another miss. He had a heart attack and died on June 3, 1875.

“Carmen,” of course, was more than a hit. It is one the most important operas ever written. Much of Bizet’s earlier became popular in the twentieth century. Wikipedia says that he now is acclaimed “as a composer of brilliance and originality.”

This is what mfiles.com says about “Carmen”:

It is perhaps difficult to appreciate the effect that Carmen had on the music scene. It wasn’t an immediate success with audiences, its subject matter being considered a touch scandalous. But its popularity increased after Bizet’s death and has remained a firm favourite to this day. It is far removed from the stylised traditions of classical opera. Instead it is full of powerful passions, realistic in its depiction of events, and originally including spoken dialogue instead of recitative (sung speach) as was the custom. You might even say that it anticipated the gritty story-telling of the 20th century’s film and TV media. The libretto was provided Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (another member of the Halévy family, Geneviéve’s cousin). Bizet’s music for Carmen is full of exciting rhythms and orchestral colours. (Interestingly, though the music is sometimes criticised for not being authentically Spanish, it was later discovered that Bizet had unwittingly borrowed the Habañera theme from a Spanish composer, thinking that it was a traditional piece.)

Other major works by Bizet, according to mfiles, are “The Peal Fishers,” “The Fair Maid of Perth,” “Djamileh,” “Symphony in C,” “Rome Suite,” “L’Arlésienne” and “Jeux d’Enfants.”

Above is the familiar Overture from “Carmen” performed by The Metropolitan Opera in New York City with James Levine conducting. He’s very entertaining. Below is “Habanera,” also from “Carmen,” performed at the Royal Opera House in London. It is entertaining in an entirely different way.