Having been a little lengthy last week, I will not deter you long with too many words with this music; because the truth is, it is not easy to articulate the beauty of this piece – text is unlikely to give it justice, beyond a little background and personal experience.
Even if you’ve never seen it, or have yet to go to an opera, almost everyone has heard of Carmen. If you have not taken this step yet, for perfectly understandable pre-misconceptions, you could do a lot worse than seek out a performance of this opera. We took my son (who I’m sure would not be overly offended if I stated that he would sound out of tune in a football crowd) to see it with a friend a couple of years ago. It was his reaction to this work which prompted the real purpose of my blog: if he could respond like this to classical music and opera, anyone could.
Afterwards his friend even commented that at one stage “the music was so lovely, I didn’t even bother to look at the surtitles to know what was being sung”. The clip I have chosen does give you the benefit of an English translation, but it’s almost superfluous.
Carmen, a French opera composed by Georges Bizet (1838-75), is the story of a raunchy gypsy with an insatiable appetite for seduction. She lures the vulnerable Don Jose, a soldier who is already attached to his childhood sweetheart; and then, once he’s head-over-heels in love with her, dumps him for the more alluring bullfighter, Escamillo. In a jealous rage, Jose declares that if he can’t have her, noone else will – and stabs her to make sure of it. That is possibly the shortest synopsis of a four act opera you will ever read, but it really doesn’t matter: all you need to know is that this work is stuffed with passion and wonderful tunes throughout which ease through the most defiant of ears. When it was first performed in 1875, it was not received well, since its subject was deemed far too unseemly; and Bizet died only a few months later, believing it to be a failure. It was the lone voice of Tchaikovsky who predicted that within a matter of years Carmen would become one of the most popular in the repertory, and how right he was.
There is so much to choose from, but these few minutes are heart-wrenchingly sublime. Don Jose, here performed by Jonas Kaufmann (one of the very best tenor/baritones around today) sings of his love for Carmen. I can’t add a word to this sound.