Bizet, Georges

Carmen (1875) is Bizet’s best-known work and is based on a novella of the same title written in 1846 by the French writer Prosper Mérimée. Bizet composed the title role for a mezzo-soprano. It was substantially composed during the summer of 1873, but not finished until the end of 1874, during which time his marriage came under severe strain and he separated from his wife for two months. Carmen premiered on 3 March 1875, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and was not initially well-received, although it ran for 37 performances in the next three months, an average of three a week; it was Bizet’s greatest success so far. Bizet had put every ounce of his genius into Carmen, and its lukewarm reception was a bitter disappointment. Praise for it eventually came from well-known contemporaries including Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky. Brahms attended over twenty performances of it, and considered it the greatest opera produced in Europe since the Franco-Prussian War. The views of these composers proved to be prophetic, as Carmen has since become one of the most popular works in the entire operatic repertoire. Carmen contains two of Bizet’s most famous songs, the “Habanera” and “The Toreador’s Song”, which compete for popularity with the tenor-baritone duet “Au fond du temple saint” (“In the depths of the temple”) from The Pearl Fishers.

However, Bizet did not live to see Carmen’s success. He died from heart failure at the age of 36 in Bougival (Yvelines), about 10 miles west of Paris. It has been suggested that Élie-Miriam Delaborde, who was believed to be the illegitimate son of Charles-Valentin Alkan, may have been indirectly responsible for Bizet’s death, which followed a swimming competition between the two, as a result of which Bizet caught a chill. Murder or even suicide were suspected at the time, as what was described as a “gunshot wound” appeared to be on the left side of his neck. However, this was most likely a lymph node which swelled and perforated. He almost certainly died with a systemic streptococcal infection, consistent with his lifelong medical history.


Georges Bizet – Wikipedia