I consider it a masterpiece in the fullest sense of the word: one of those rare compositions which seems to reflect most strongly in itself the musical tendencies of a whole generation.”



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Henri Meilhac

Librettist Henri Meilhac was born in Paris, Feb. 21, 1831. After finishing his secondary school studies, Meilhac was employed in a book shop. However he also devoted himself to drawing, as well as working as a cartoonist and humorous writer with the newspapers Journal pour rire and Vie parisienne, employment in which he initially used the pseudonym Ivan Baskoff.

In 1856, he made his debut as a comedy writer in a one-act musical comedy La Sarabande du cardinal and subsequently wrote exclusively for the theatre. He created at least 115 works of various genres, including musical comedies, five-act comedies and opera libretti.

Many of his works were written in collaboration with other authors, in particular with Ludovic Halévy, and their combined literary output greatly influenced the style of comic libretti of the 19th century. Together, they wrote libretti for Offenbach, which included La Belle Hélène, La Vie parisienne, La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein and La Périchole, the libretto for Bizet's Carmen and opera libretti for other French composers.

Meilhac became very popular in England, thanks to Offenbach's operas. He was elected a member of the Académie Française for his artistic talents in 1888, and died in Paris on July 6, 1897.


CARMEN LISTENING GUIDE




    1. Overture: An overture is an orchestral piece which introduces a larger musical work.

The overture is comprised of three major themes that are used later in the opera; it begins with the music that is sung by the chorus at the beginning of Act IV as they excitedly prepare for the bull fight, with an interjection of the theme from the famous Toreador Song sung by Escamillo in Act II. The overture finishes [2:12] with a mysterious and unsettling musical theme which is meant to represent both Carmen as well as the concept of “fate.” This theme will appear many times during the opera, usually accompanying important events in the plot.


Enrico Caruso's sketch of himself

as Don José in Carmen, 1904



2. Habañera: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (“Love is a rebellious bird”) A crowd of men has gathered to watch the cigarette-girls pass by as they leave their factory. The men have been waiting to see the gypsy woman Carmen, who makes a grand entrance and sings the Habañera. Don José is the only one who seems uninterested in Carmen; she responds by throwing him a flower.
The Habañera is perhaps the most recognizable aria (solo) in the opera. It is heavily influenced by Spanish musical style, both metrically and melodically. The habañera is a song style that originated in Cuba and became popular in the 19th century, spreading throughout Spanish colonies all over the world, including those in Europe. The four-note tango rhythm heard at the very beginning can be continuously heard throughout the entire duration of the aria. The cellos play this rhythm over 100 times!


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