1872 Premiere of Djamileh at the prestigious Opéra-Comique, Paris, to little success
1873 Abandons work on an opera called Don Rodrigue, due to a fire at the Paris Opéra and the theatre’s decision to stage a different work
1875 Premiere of Carmen, Paris, to shocked audiences and scathing
critics; Bizet dies three months later, unaware that Carmen will go on to become one the world’s most popular operas
Poster from the 1875
premiere of Carmen
The Life and Times of Georges Bizet
1837 Rebellion in Quebec. The French and British battle for Upper and Lower Canada.
1838 Georges Bizet is born in Paris, France, on Oct. 25.
Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is published.
Samuel Morse demonstrates his electrical telegraph for the first time.
1840 Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, British novelist Thomas Hardy, French painter Claude Monet and French sculptor Auguste Rodin are born.
The world’s first postage stamp is issued in Britain.
Victoria is crowned Queen of England.
1841 The first university degrees are granted to women in the United States.
Upper and Lower Canada are united by an Act of Parliament.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, is born.
1844 Controversial Métis hero, Louis Riel, is born on the Red River Settlement in Manitoba. He is later hanged for treason for his part in the Red River and Northwest rebellions.
Alexandre Dumas publishes The Three Musketeers.
1845 “Carmen”, the novella by Prosper Mérimée, is first published in La Revue des Deux Mondes, to universally disapproving reviews for its perceived immorality.
Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven is published in the New York Evening Mirror.
The rubber band is invented in England.
1847 Nine-year-old Bizet begins studying music at the Paris Conservatory of Music.
Alexander Graham Bell is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Johnny Appleseed (born John Chapman), who introduced apple trees to Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, dies in Indiana.
Richard Wagner begins work on the libretto for the Ring Cycle.
The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
The first medical school for women is opened in Boston.
The University of Ottawa is founded.
Karl Marx publishes The Communist Manifesto.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace publish their theory of evolution through natural selection.
1855 Bizet completes his most famous symphony, Symphony in C. It is not performed until 1935.
1857 Bizet writes the cantata Herminie.
Bizet wins the Prix de Rome for the one-act opera Le Docteur Miracle and goes to Italy for three years.
Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa as Canada’s capital from a selection that includes Toronto, Kingston, Quebec City and Montreal.
Milton S. Hershey, founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, is born.
1861 Bizet’s mother dies.
Bizet fathers a child with his mother’s nurse.
Several southern states secede from the U.S. and form the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis is elected president.
1863 Bizet composes Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), which debuts at the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris.
The first segment of London’s Underground subway system begins operation.
Union forces win the Battle of Gettysburg, which becomes the turning point in the American Civil War.
1867 Bizet premieres La jolie fille de Perth at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris.
The British North America Act establishes the Dominion of Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald becomes Canada’s first prime minister.
The U.S. purchases Alaska from the Russians for approximately two cents an acre.
Alexander Muir writes “The Maple Leaf Forever” which becomes an unofficial national anthem in Canada.
1868 Bizet suffers from attacks of quinsy (inflammation of the tonsils) and begins to re-examine his religious beliefs.
Louisa May Alcott publishes Little Women.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor receives its first performance.
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger premieres at the Hoftheater in Munich.
1869 Bizet marries Geneviève, daughter of his former teacher, Halévy. They have one son.
Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the first opera of his Ring Cycle, debuts in Munich.
Leo Tolstoy publishes War and Peace.
Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi is born in Gujarat, India.
1870 Prosper Mérimée, author of the novella Carmen, dies in Cannes.
France declares war on Prussia (Franco-Prussian War). Bizet enlists in the National Guard.
The province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories are created.
Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch develop the theory that germs are responsible for disease.
1872 Bizet begins to take an interest in Mérimée’s novella, Carmen.
The Toronto Mail, which would later become the Globe and Mail, begins publishing.
The Canadian Pacific Railway is formed.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City.
Carmen premieres at the Opéra-Comique on March 3. The media criticizes Carmen as having an “obscene” libretto and obscure, colourless, undistinguished and unromantic music.
The reception of Carmen leaves Bizet acutely depressed. He suffers another attack of quinsy. Three months to the day after Carmen’s premiere, Bizet dies of heart failure. He is 36.
The Supreme Court of Canada is established.
Bizet’s widow Geneviève later had an alliance with Élie-Miriam Delaborde; indeed, there exists an application for registration of a marriage between them, which never took place. Instead, she married Émile Straus, a banker with Rothschild family connections, and became a noted society hostess. The writer Marcel Proust used her as a model for the Duchesse de Guermantes in his roman fleuve À la recherche du temps perdu. (The Bizets' son, Jacques Bizet (1872-1922), who became a writer, had been a friend of Proust's while they were schoolboys together at the same school.)
Bizet's music has been used in the 20th century as the basis for several important ballets. The Soviet-era Carmen Suite (1967), set to music drawn from Carmen arranged by Rodion Shchedrin, gave the Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya one of her signature roles; it was choreographed by Alberto Alonso. In the West the L'Arlesienne of Roland Petit is well-regarded, and Symphony in C by George Balanchine is considered to be one of the great ballets of the 20th century. It was first presented as Le Palais de Crystal by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, and it has been in the repertory there ever since. The ballet has no story: it simply fits the music. Each movement of the symphony has its own ballerina, cavalier, and corps de ballet, all of whom dance together in the finale.
Bizet's work as a composer has overshadowed how fine a pianist he was. He could easily have had a career as a concert pianist had he so wished. On May 16, 1861, at a dinner party at the Halevys at which Franz Liszt was present, Bizet gave a faultless performance of an elaborate work of Liszt's, reading at sight from the unpublished manuscript. Liszt proclaimed that Bizet was one of the three finest pianists in Europe. Bizet's skill at the piano was also praised by Hector Berlioz, his teacher Marmontel, and many others.
ABOUT THE DRAMATIST
Prosper Mérimée (1803 – 1870) was a French dramatist, historian, archaeologist, and short story writer. He is perhaps best known for his novella “Carmen,” which became the basis of Bizet's opera Carmen.
Prosper Mérimée was born in Paris. He studied law as well as Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian. He was the first interpreter of much Russian literature in France.
Mérimée loved mysticism, history, the unusual, and the mystification, the historical fiction popularised by Sir Walter Scott and the cruelty and psychological drama of Aleksandr Pushkin. Many of his stories are mysteries set in foreign places, Spain and Russia being popular sources of inspiration.
In 1834, Mérimée was appointed to the post of inspector-general of historical monuments. He was a born archaeologist, combining linguistic faculty of a very unusual kind with accurate scholarship, with remarkable historical appreciation, and with a sincere love for the arts of design and construction, in the former of which he had some practical skill. In his official capacity he published numerous reports, some of which, with other similar pieces, have been republished in his works.
Mérimée met and befriended the Countess of Montijo in Spain in 1830 whom he credited as being his source for the ;”Carmen“ story. Together with the countess, he coached her daughter, Eugenie, during the courtship with Napoleon III (though his correspondence indicates he was opposed to their marriage). When the daughter became the Empress Eugénie of France in 1853 he was made a senator.
In 1841, Prosper Mérimée and his friend George Sand made a major contribution to the history of medieval art by discovering the luminous tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn during a stay at the Château de Boussac in the Limousin district of central France, which entered immediately into history thanks to the writings of George Sand.
Prosper Mérimée died in Cannes, France.
ABOUT THE LIBRETTISTS
Librettist Ludovic Halévy was born in Paris on Dec. 31, 1833, into a family of musicians and playwrights. His father Léon was a scholar and playwright and his paternal uncle, Jacques François Halévy, was a well-known composer.
Halévy followed in the family tradition and, even though he became a government official, he started his career as a librettist in 1855, working with Offenbach. Thereafter, he wrote libretti with Hector Crémieux and Henri Meilhac for other operas and operettas. His collaboration with Meilhac was all-important because together they created the ideal libretti for Offenbach and, most memorably, also wrote the libretto to Carmen for Bizet. Among Offenbach's operas the most important are Orphée aux enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Vie parisienne, La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein and La Périchole.
Ludovic Halévy died in Paris on May 7, 1908.