Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ – No. 40 in our collection

Georges Bizet (25.10.1838 – 03.06.1875) was a French composer of the romantic era who is best known for his operas. In a career cut short by his early death, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen. Nonetheless Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suites 1 & 2 and his Symphony in C are also well worth seeking out.

Georges Bizet

Carmen is an opera in four acts written in the genre of opéra comique with musical numbers separated by dialogue. It is set in southern Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen’s love to the glamorous matador Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality, and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial.

Carmen has since become one of the most popular and frequently performed operas in the classical canon; the “Habanera” from act 1 and the “Toreador Song” from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias and, of course, the prelude will be very familiar to Formula 1 motor racing fans!

We have opted for a first rate recording, made in the 1970s, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado. It stars Teresa Berganza who is truly outstanding as Carmen, Plácido Domingo as Don Jose, Sherrill Milnes as Escamillo) and Yvonne Kenny as Frasquita. Berganza shows a clear rapport with Abbado, who presents the score with intense concentration, a certain clarity of texture and a degree of Mediterranean fieriness.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

Those looking for more elegance and wit might seek out Victoria de los Angeles absolutely bewitching portrayal of Carmen in the classic Thomas Beecham recording from the 1950s. Those who are wishing to see, as well as hear, this amazing opera need look no further than the 2010 release from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with Elina Garanča as Carmen and Roberto Alagna as Don José

Much as I enjoy the drama of a night at the opera, all too frequently performances on DVD leave me cold. But in this instance  production, cast, performance, film direction and use of the medium come together in a spectacular way to give a fully worthwhile experience.

Buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.