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If you had crossed Bizet's path in 1875, the year "Carmen" was first staged, you would have met with a plump, bespectacled Frenchman who was forever nibbling sweet delicacies. But while you might overlook this unassuming person, you could not have ignored his music.
From early childhood, Bizet possessed prodigious talent. In the Conservatoire at nine, and winning every prize going, he worked his magic on a variety of instruments. At the age of 19, he won the Prix de Rome. With innate musical taste, judgment, and imagination, he stands above his contemporaries.
As this program points out, Bizet was no "one trick pony." He'd written most of his work before anyone had heard of "Carmen," and some of this sadly neglected work deserves rediscovery and appreciation, such as his opera "The Pearl Fishers."
Harold Schonberg wrote, "Carmen is an opera of passion, power, and truth, infinitely superior to the carefully arranged, prettily served canapés of Gounod and Massenet. They were skilled professionals. Bizet was a genius."
Tchaikovsky and Brahms were fans of "Carmen," too. Wagner, having heard it, said of Bizet, "At last, for a change, someone with ideas in his head!"
All this makes it the more stunning that this perennial favorite did not meet with immediate success. "Carmen" was called "immoral," and accused of being (even worse) "Wagnerian."
In this excellent program, David Timson brings the spectacle of "Carmen" vividly to life, with reference to many important excerpts, the fast and furious scene changes demanded by the complex action, and so much more.
If you're fortunate enough to be going to see the opera or just want to understand it better while you listen at home, you can't go wrong with this exploration of "Carmen essentials."
This was the first opera I heard (at the age of nine) and it left me forever in love with opera itself. My French wasn't under firm control, and I couldn't really understand everything that was happening, but that music! I have never forgotten it. Such is the power of Bizet.
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