10 Interesting Facts About Carmen

It was another long elevator ride from the parking garage where we cornered Dr. Nic and asked him to give us 10 interesting facts about Carmen. Sure, we might have hit the buttons so we stopped at every floor and refused to let him off until he shared what he knew, but in the end, it was worth it. With Carmen rehearsals now underway, today seems like a perfect time to share 10 Interesting Facts About Carmen:

1. Carmen was not a flop at its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875. It ran for 45 performances, well into June of that year.

2. Carmen was certainly a controversial subject for the usually tepid Opéra-Comique which only staged operas with sentimental, semi-serious plots, never tragedies.

3. The orchestra at the Opéra-Comique rebelled against the demands of the score and the chorus, unused to actually having to act onstage, threatened mass resignation.

4. Carmen was based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée who travelled extensively through Spain and heard stories similar to the story of the doomed gypsy who eventually became the central figure in his work.

5. The opera Carmen can arguably be said to be about Don José, as he is the character who changes in the course of the drama, the protagonist. Carmen does not change, which is usually the description of an antagonist in a play or opera.

6. Carmen and Don José never sing the same tune in the opera. We must wait until Act Four to hear Carmen sing a duet with someone who shares identical music and it’s not with Don José; it’s with Escamillo, the matador.

7. Every time Carmen opens her mouth in this opera, the accompanying music is a dance form: habanera, seguidilla, gypsy dance. Even the ‘card aria’ (“En vain pour éviter”) is a slow dance of death.

8. Carmen was more popular in Italy than in France in the late 19th century and was influential in the creation of the verismo operatic style made popular by Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci.

9. One of the directors of the Opéra-Comique resigned in a huff because of the more shocking elements in Carmen’s libretto: onstage violence, an independent, amorously loose central character and women smoking!

10. We have Léon Carvalho to thank not only for the creation of Faust at the Théâtre Lyrique, but for offering Bizet the opportunity to write an opera for the Comique, where Carvalho was now the intendant. (At least this time he didn’t offer his wife, Caroline, one of the lead roles!)


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