Carmen is among the most popular operas for all the obvious reasons: great characters, a gripping story, and fabulous music. But what sets it on a pinnacle is an amazing combination of three factors: a sizzling Gipsy heroine (one of the most psychologically complex and compelling characters in all theatre), great atmosphere (Spain, hot sun, the bull-ring), and the prodigality of melodic invention - one great tune after another, at least a dozen of which are the staples of Madison Avenue and the animated cartoon.
Like a surprising number of opera-house staples, Carmen was not a success at its first performance. In fact, it is likely that its failure contributed to the early death of the composer. But as Thomson Smillie shows in his accessible introduction, the emotionally driven nature of its heroine and her admirers, Don José and Escamillo, makes Carmen unforgettable. As always in the Opera Explained series, the music itself plays an integral role.
Listeners will enjoy David Timson's animated performance as he narrates Thomson Smillie's analysis of why Carmen is among the most popular operas in history. Smillie has the scholarly earnestness of a music lover who simply wishes to share his delight with others, and Timson's wry and elegant voice is a perfect complement. Using musical extracts from Carmen, Smillie sets out to show how a combination of atmosphere, melodic ingenuity, and a seductive heroine produced an opera that continues to be a staple production despite its ignominious start. Listeners will find their own passion for opera ignited by this recording.
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