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Bizet, Georges

February 14, 2012 381 No of hits
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Bizet, Georges

Composer Georges Bizet died believing that his new opera, Carmen, was a failure. He would have been pleased to learn that this opera has become one of the most popular ever written, continually in the repertory of major opera houses worldwide. Carmen typifies the verismo school of realistic, even sordid, subjects reflecting real life passions and drama. Even people who are not opera fans recognize "The Toreador Song" and the "Habanera" that are ubiquitous in films, television shows, and commercials. Bizet's music has been heard in more than 80 films from The Bad News Bears to Return of the Living Dead.

Alexandre César Léopold Bizet (later changed to Georges) was born on October 25, 1838 in Paris, France. His father taught music, and young Georges was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine. By 17 he had written his Symphony in C Major that was not performed until 1935.

He received the Prix de Rome in 1857. The prize allowed him a pension for five years and required that he live in Rome, then Germany, and finally in Paris. In 1863, he wrote Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) in just four months. The opera was performed in September 1863 to an indifferent reception. While the plot didn't captivate audiences, the opera contains much fine music, such as the famous duet for tenor and baritone, "Au fond du temple saint." Less famous but no less memorable are the tenor aria "Je crois entendre encore" and the beautifully orchestrated soprano aria, "Comme autrefois."

La jolie fille de Perth, his next opera, was not staged until December 1867. Until then he earned a living giving piano lessons and arranging the work of other composers.

He married Geneviève Halévy, the daughter of his former teacher, and they had one son. He wrote a one-act opera called Djamileh and incidental music for a play, L'arlésienne, but both failed when they were produced in 1872.

His next effort was Carmen, in 1875, based on a story by Prosper Mérimée. Worlds away from the exotic setting of The Pearl Fishers, Carmen captures the realistic atmosphere of Seville where the heroine works in a cigarette factory, fights with other girls, and seductively taunts the men. In opera comique tradition, the opera contains spoken dialogue (in later productions, sung recitatives replaced the dialogue). The passion and tragedy are told in the music as well as the libretto, capturing the flamboyant world of gypsies and bullfighters. The role of Carmen, the tempestuous gypsy who knows her death is foretold by the cards, is prized by mezzo-sopranos; one of the most famous was Risë Stevens.

Although fellow composers Jules Massenet and Camille Saint-Saëns liked the opera, critics did not, finding the heroine amoral and the music dull.

Bizet suffered from a severe throat ailment that, coupled with depression over the criticism of Carmen, affected his health. In June 1885 he became ill with a fever, followed by two heart attacks. He died on June 3 in Bougival, France at the age of 36.

Tags:   Bizet, Georges   George Bizet   French opera   Carmen  

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Composer Georges Bizet died believing that his new opera, Carmen, was a failure. He would have been pleased to learn that this opera has become one of the most popular ever written, continually in the repertory of major opera houses worldwide. Carmen typifies the verismo school of realistic, even...

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