Georges Bizet: Carmen

Bizet’s two famous operas couldn’t be more different. The first, The Pearl Fishers, is cruelly remembered for containing only one hit.

Carmen, by contrast, is so packed full of memorable melodies that it’s guaranteed an almost permanent position as the world’s most popular and most frequently performed opera. From the barnstorming orchestral Prelude to the macho Toreador’s Song, via the sexy Habanera and sultry Seguidilla, this is like a nineteenth-century collection of three- minute pop songs from start to finish.

Carmen is set in Seville and stretches across four acts. Its steamy nature shocked audiences at the time. In fact, Bizet was seen as quite the rebel for having set to music something so apparently salacious. Every man loves Carmen – and they’re not afraid to show it. She drives men wild, flirts outrageously, and is an all-round good-time girl. The risqué plot, sexual tension and typically exotic music all fuse together to create a universally appealing opera that absolutely cements Bizet’s position within the history of the genre. Here was a composer who wrote mass-market music in the very best sense of that phrase. Today, nearly 150 years on from its premiere performance, it remains hugely popular the world over – and of that Bizet would have been proud. 

Recommended recordings:

Julia Migenes (soprano); Placido Domingo (tenor); Ruggero Raimondi (bass-baritone); Chorus of Radio France; French National Orchestra; Lorin Maazel (conductor).