• Carmen: The Music of Carmen

    Dialogues or recitatives?

    This is the first question to ask when you are planning a performance of Carmen in 2012.

    As written by Bizet, Carmen was an 'opéra comique'. At the time of Bizet this meant basically that it contained spoken dialogues and would be offered at the Opéra-Comique theater, even if the subject was a tragedy.

    With the death of Bizet, just three months after the premiere of Carmen, the owners of the score, the publisher firm Choudens, asked Ernest Guiraud to introduce recitatives based on Ludovic Halévy's poetry. Guiraud also reorchestrated music from Bizet's L'Arlésienne suite to provide a ballet for Carmen's second act. In this format, the opera was to be performed in Vienna and Brussels. In each city, some but not all recitatives were used, and even some dialogues were kept, but Carmen was very successful.

    Choudens then decided to publish the score with the recitatives of Guiraud, and other retouching. The rationale, apart from the success, was that Bizet himself was ready before his death to work on those recitatives, at the request of Choudens.

    Fast forward to the 1960s. The original dialogues were still there, and they were used to perform Carmen at the Opéra Comique, and also for the odd performance here and there, but the musicologist Fritz Oeser using several sources such as... :

    1.- The autograph manuscript bequeathed to Paris Conservatory by Bizet's widow.

    2.- The piano-vocal score prepared by Bizet

    3.- Performing documents of the premiere, found by Oeser himself.

    4.- Staging indications

    ... prepared a critical edition for Carmen, using the dialogues, and trying to be as close as possible to the original Bizet's version. Even going as far as to include music that Bizet himself has finally decided not to include for the premiere, or for the piano-vocal score, on the premise that is was due 'to the pression by others'.

    Guiraud's recitatives were very competent, and helped the opera to reach its iconic status. The dialogues are not easy to handle anyway for non-French singers, and require a superior acting ability.

    Personally I love both dialogues and recitatives, but given the choice of a version to perform, and providing I could count on the right singers for it, I will choose the premiere version, with spoken dialogues.

    Caruso and Farrar as Don José and Carmen

    Those are the numbers of the opera, based on the Choudens publication of Guiraud's schema, back in 1875:

    Act 1
    1. Prelude
    2. Sur la place chacun passe
    3. Avec la garde montante
    4. La cloche a sonné
    5. (Habanera): L'amour est un oiseau rebelle
    6. Carmen! Sur tes pas nous pressons!
    7. Parle-moi de ma mère
    8. Que se passe-t-il là-bas? Au secours! Au secours!
    9.Tra-la-la...Coupe-moi, brûle-moi
    10. (Seguidilla): Près des ramparts de Séville
    11. (Finale): Voici l'ordre; partez

    Act 2
    12. Les tringles des sistres tintaient
    13. Vivat! Vivat le torero!
    14. Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre ... Chanson du toreador
    15. (Quintette): Nous avons en tête une affaire!
    16. Halte-là! Qui vu là?
    17. Je vais danser en votre honneur...La fleur que tu m'avais jetée...Non! Tu ne m'aimes pas!
    18: (Finale): Holà! Carmen! Holà!

    Act 3
    19. Écoute, compagnon, écoute
    20. Mêlons! – Coupons!
    21. Quant au douanier, c'est notre affaire
    22. C'est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire... Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante
    23. Je suis Escamillo, torero de Grenade!
    24. (Finale): Holà holà José!

    Act 4
    25. A deux cuartos!
    26. Les voici, voici la quadrille ... Si tu m'aimes, Carmen
    27. (Finale): C'est toi! – C'est moi!

    Of course, Carmen is the main role, and one of the more important for a female voice in all the standard repertoire. It can be sung by a mezzo or a soprano. Her main numbers are:
    Habanera - Tra La La La - Les Tringles (solo numbers)
    Ramparts de Séville - Je vais danser - C'est toi (duets with Don José)

    Don José, a soldier and a man in love, a French lyrical tenor. His numbers:
    La fleur que tu m'avais jetée - Halte-là! (solo numbers)
    Parle-moi de ma mère (duet with Micaela)
    Je suis Escamillo (duet with Escamillo)

    The young and naive Micaëla, the girl from Navarra must be sung by a ligth-lyrical soprano, and sound pure and angelic, as far from Carmen as possible.
    Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante (solo)

    Escamillo, the bullfighter. Convinced of his own worth, but also in love with Carmen. A short but significant role for a baritone.
    Chanson du toreador (solo)
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Carmen: The Music of Carmen started by Schigolch View original post
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Among the many beautiful (and catchy) tunes that are present in Carmen, perhaps the more famous is the Habanera, sung by Carmen herself in the First Act.

      Well, this was not the original intention of Bizet. In the first version of the opera, a standard aria was there in place of the Habanera. This was the original "L'amour est enfant de bohème":

      However, Bizet was not very happy about the result and, even worse, neither was Célestine Galli-Marié. Searching for an alternative, Bizet heard a haunting melody contained in a collection of songs published in France under the title of "Fleurs d'Espagne". Considering it was a kind of folklore song, Bizet proceed to use it as the basis for the Habanera.

      And what's exactly an "habanera"?. As suggested by its name, it's music coming from Cuba. Originally, a dance music style that was created around the beginning of the 19th century. In the 1860s, a Spanish composer, Sebastián Iradier, was visiting Cuba when he fell in love with that music, and wrote several "habanera" songs.

      One of them was soon very, very famous in Spain (and Cuba, too) as well as Mexico, and from there it gained a big popularity across the world. It's, of course, 'La Paloma":

      But another one, more obscure at first, was also going to be known everywhere, but in this case thanks to Georges Bizet. This is "El Arreglito":

      [Video here before was removed from YouTube]

      And was the basis for the new "L'amour est enfant de bohème", that was going to please the composer, and the star singer. Incidentally, also enhanced the drama, adding what was then an exotic element to Carmen, an alien presence to the patrons of the Opéra-Comique. Bizet also enhanced the hypnotic aspect of all habaneras with a splendid choice of instruments for the orchestration. Using almost the same melodic line, without any modulation, using a drone on D and three chords. Simplicity itself.

      This was indeed something of a shock for the Parisian audience in the 1870s, but has remained equally effective since then. A rather trivial song, turned by the genius of Bizet into the basis of Carmen's characterization.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -

      Francisco de Goya - Dancing seguidillas

      Another of the Spanish's based melodies used by Bizet in Carmen, is the famous seguidilla in the First Act, when Carmen is left alone with Don José, that is watching over her.

      The seguidilla is a dance originated in Castille, in the 17th century. Ternary rhythm, usually about love ups and downs, and played with castanets, bandurrias, dulzainas and home-made percussion.

      As Carmen was from Seville, is good to know that the Castillian seguidillas evolved there to what we know as sevillanas, during the 18th century.

      Bizet was just using this Spanish dance as a basis to provide what he wanted to present as Spanish flavour. The flute playing low notes is intended to provide the other key of the number, Carmen's sensuality.

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