Reading up on Carmen

This coming Friday we’re off to the opera with some friends – the renowned Lyric of Chicago’s current production of the Bizet classic Carmen.  Though I’ve never been to the Lyric before, and I have seen very little opera otherwise, I do know that it’s best to learn plenty before going.  So this morning I’ve been trying to educate myself in the hopes of taking full advantage of the experience.  The Lyric offers a guide to the opera online, which provides a nice synopsis and some historical context for the work.  I’ve also found a guide created by the NY Met that goes quite a bit further – it was designed for use in the public schools with students, and is fully aligned with common core learning standards; I’m currently wading through that.

I admit to being relatively ignorant when it comes to opera in general, and to Carmen in particular.  While I’ve known the broad strokes of the story for a while, it’s nice to engage more fully, and to learn a little of the history of the production itself, including information about its composer, Georges Bizet.

Bizet died young, in his mid-thirties, mostly considering himself a failure.  Though not terribly prolific, Bizet has, of course, come to be one of the most well-known composers of opera.  And Carmen is the reason – none of his other operatic works continue in the canon.   Happily for his posterity, in opera, a one-hit-wonder can memorialize; the work has indeed been a hot commodity since its debut at the Paris Opera Comique in 1875.  The music has become some of the most recognizable of the form.

But the story also captivates.  Based on a novella by Prosper Merimee, it’s full of love, lust, stereotypes, gender, war, and class.  Interestingly, a great deal of the plot of Merimee’s original novella is excluded – the opera’s libretto presents only one of four parts and omits some fundamental details.  The novella was adapted into the libretto by Bizet’s friends and colleagues Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

I’m greatly looking forward to the excursion and have been for a while – I think we bought the tickets back in November.  I also have on my to-do list for today making a pre-opera dinner reservation.

Thanks for reading.


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