Georges Bizet

Aragonaise, Intermezzo, and Séguedille from Carmen Suite No. 1

            Early critics of the opera deemed the score “unplayable,” while others complained that the orchestra dominated the singers.  Now, of course, everyone appreciates Bizet’s colorful, but relatively light, orchestration, and his real ear for tonal color that well suits the opera’s Spanish setting.  Even the master of orchestration himself, Richard Strauss, recommended students of the subject to Carmen, not Wagner.  The “Aragonaise,” the “Entr’acte” to Act IV, features exotic percussion and vigorous dance rhythms.  The “Intermezzo” is the “Entr’acte” to Act III, is a delicate solo for flute and harp.  The “Séguedille” is from Act I, where Carmen, jailed for slashing a co-worker’s face, tries to seduce her captor, Don José, and effect her escape.

Symphony in C major

            Georges Bizet was a genuine musical prodigy, whose talent was early and widely recognized, who studied with the best teachers and composers in France, who perhaps was the close equal of Liszt as a pianist, who won the Prix de Rome, and who composed perhaps the most popular opera of all time.  And yet.  His career was a checkered one, full of missteps, works that were never finished, works that were finished and not performed, betrayals and failures with the French operatic establishment, and an early death at the age of thirty-six.  He planned, started, or substantially worked on some thirty operas, but finished only about five, of which only two achieved success.  His musical legacy was a story of lost manuscripts, poor or no scholarly attention, bad editions, and

“Les voici la quadrille” from Carmen

            Georges Bizet’s Carmen is at least partial evidence for the old observation that the French have written some of the best Spanish-flavored music.  A composer of stunning talent, Bizet tragically died at the early age of only thirty-seven, three months after the première of his signature work.  In the opera, set in Seville, Escamillo the bullfighter competes with the soldier, Don José, for the love of the fiery Carmen, a cigarette maker (and smoker!)  Carmen is amusing herself in a dangerous game, playing the two arrogant and vainful men against each other, in a constant atmosphere of possible violence.   Act IV of the opera, which ends in Escamillo’s murder of Carmen, begins innocuously enough with the colorful entry of Escamillo and his retinue into the town square