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Work data
Original title: Carmen
Poster for the premiere in 1875

Poster for the premiere in 1875

Original language: French
Music: Georges Bizet
Libretto : Henri Meilhac , Ludovic Halévy
Literary source: Carmen by Prosper Mérimée
Premiere: March 3, 1875
Place of premiere: Opéra-Comique , Paris
Playing time: approx. 2 ¾ hours
Place and time of the action: Spain ( Seville ), ca.1820
  • Don José, Sergeant ( tenor )
  • Escamillo, torero ( baritone )
  • Dancaïro, smuggler (tenor or baritone)
  • Remendado, smuggler (tenor)
  • Moralès, Sergeant (baritone)
  • Zuniga, Lieutenant ( bass )
  • Lillas Pastia, innkeeper (speaking role)
  • a mountain guide (speaking role)
  • Carmen, gypsy ( mezzo-soprano )
  • Micaëla, peasant girl ( soprano )
  • Frasquita, gypsy (soprano)
  • Mercédès, gypsy (soprano; also mezzo-soprano / alto)
  • Choir and ballet : soldiers, young men, cigarette workers, Escamillo supporters, gypsies, gypsies, police officers, bullfighters etc .; Street boys ( children's choir )
Bizet's manuscript of the Habanera from Act I

Carmen is an opera in four acts by Georges Bizet . The libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy after the novella by Prosper Mérimée . Although formally an opera comique and also referred to as such, Carmen was “a revolutionary break” with this genre of opera. The realistic portrayal of the milieu, drama and fateful tragedy made it a forerunner of verismo . The first performance on March 3, 1875 in the Opéra-Comique was received rather negatively. Soon afterwards, however, Carmen became one of the greatest world successes in opera history, which the composer did not live to see. Even today, Carmen is one of the most popular and most frequently performed works in the operatic repertoire.


first act

A place in Seville .

A military guard bored away while watching the passing crowd. Micaëla appears and, when asked about Don José, learns that he will not appear until the changing of the guard. She declines the invitation from the soldiers to keep them company until then and prefers to come back later. The relieving guard marches to the lively participation of a horde of street boys. Moralès tells Don José about the girl who asked about him. Don José recognizes Micaëla from the description, who lives as an orphan in his mother's house.

Lieutenant Zuniga asks Don José about the workers in the nearby cigarette factory, who are known for their attractiveness. Then the factory bell rings. The workers pour into the square, eagerly watched by the men. Carmen makes her appearance ( aria: Habanera ) and mockingly throws an acacia blossom at Don José, who initially ignores her .

After the break, Don José stays behind. Micaëla comes back, she brings a letter from Don José's mother and her kiss. José wants to resist the temptation of Carmen and marry Micaëla as his mother wants.

Later, an argument breaks out in the factory. Carmen injured a woman with her knife. When Carmen makes fun of the process and the interrogation, Zuniga instructs Don José to take her to prison.

Carmen persuades Don José to let her flee on the way and, as a thank you, promises him a hot and wonderful night in the tavern of a friend named Lillas Pastia. Don José, who vacillates between desire and a sense of duty, finally loosens her bonds so that she can escape. For that he has to be arrested.

Second act

The tavern of Lillas Pastia.

Gypsies sit with Zuniga and his officers dancing and singing in the tavern. This advertises Carmen. Carmen learns from Zuniga that José was imprisoned for a month as a punishment, but has since been released.

When the well-known bullfighter Escamillo enters the tavern, his eyes immediately fall on Carmen. He gallantly tries to approach her, but she rejects him. Two smugglers, Dancaïro and Remendado, try to win over the three gypsies Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès for a robbery. Carmen refuses and instead waits for José in love. He's finally coming.

She dances and sings for him. Since the sound curfew on José to appeal calls and he wants to follow. Carmen mocks him for his sense of duty. José reassures Carmen his deeply felt love. However, he turns down her offer to share the smuggling life with her. When he is about to leave, Zuniga steps in, causing a strong jealousy in José because he had previously approached Carmen. The consequences are tangible. Carmen throws herself between them. The smugglers and some gypsies overpower the lieutenant and tie him up. Now Don José's way back is blocked, he has to move to the mountains with the gang.

Third act

The smugglers' camp in the mountains, the rocky gorge; dark and cloudy.

The smugglers want to bring their booty into the city unnoticed. Carmen has since turned away from José. His attempts to win her back are unsuccessful. Carmen, Mercédès and Frasquita ask the cards about the future. While these promise happiness to their friends, for Carmen they only mean death.

Dancaïro and Remendado return from an expedition. The women are supposed to distract the customs officers with their seduction skills so that the men can bring some of the goods across the border. Then Jose's jealousy reawakens. While the others make their way into town, he is supposed to guard the rest of the goods.

Micaëla appears in the rock canyon. She is looking for Don José. The scary area scares her. When Escamillo also appears, she hides.

José meets Escamillo, who tells of his love for Carmen, and gets into a fierce argument with him. Carmen prevents José from killing the torero. Escamillo then invites her and all of her companions to his next bullfight in the Seville arena. The humiliated José warns Carmen, but Carmen remains unimpressed.

When the smugglers want to leave for Seville, Micaëla is discovered in her hiding place. José refuses to go back to his mother with her. When Micaëla tells him that his mother is dying, he changes his mind. Gloomy, he predicts Carmen to see her again soon.

Fourth act

A square in Seville in front of the bullfighting arena.

Escamillo appears with a large entourage and Carmen at his side. Frasquita's warning about the jealous José, who is hiding in the crowd, blows her to the wind. Everyone is moving into the arena. Carmen stays behind with José.

José still loves Carmen, but she no longer loves him. Therefore, she refuses to return to him and start a new life with him. She wants to hold on to her freedom and not allow the will of others to be imposed on her. To confirm her intention, she throws the ring that he once gave her at his feet.

While Escamillo's victory is celebrated in the arena, José Carmen stabs to death. Desperate, he collapses over her corpse. When the spectators leave the arena and see José with the dead Carmen, the latter confesses the murder and the crowd demands his arrest.


Célestine Galli-Marié as Carmen

At the first performance (with Célestine Galli-Marié in the title role) the audience reacted cooler and cooler after the initial enthusiasm. The unconventional content and Bizet's revolutionary deviations from the usual form of the opéra-comique were not accepted by the staid audience. Many critics fell upon the work. The premiere was not the success hoped for, if not a failure. The opera therefore emerged only weakly from the opera scene for the next few years. The real success came later.

History of impact and processing

The international success of the opera began a few months after its premiere in October 1875 in Vienna. Meanwhile, however, Bizet had died on June 3 at the age of 36.

For Vienna and the international stages, the publisher had a new version with ballet and recitatives by Ernest Guiraud created, which was soon used as the basis for all performances. Of course, Ludovic Halévy has forbidden a planned performance of this version at the Paris Opera and expressly included the version as an Opéra-comique in the complete edition of his works written with Meilhac . This version with spoken dialog is therefore the only authentic one. It was by no means unsuccessful, as it was played a total of 2946 times at the Opéra-Comique .

Carmen is one of the most frequently performed operas in the international repertoire. She has found many enthusiastic admirers; Friedrich Nietzsche played it off against Richard Wagner in his work “ Der Fall Wagner ” .

This popularity was also used by sound films after a silent film with the American soprano Geraldine Farrar and a Charlie Chaplin parody. An extraordinary boom in Carmen variations was registered in the early 1980s. In the same months in 1983, in which Peter Brook presented an independent theatrical variant, The Tragedy of Carmen , and Francesco Rosi made a Carmen film with Julia Migenes and Plácido Domingo in the southern Andalusian city of Ronda , Carlos Saura 's opera Carmen began a real flamenco fever trigger. Eight years after his dance film, Saura brought Bizet's Carmen to the stage of the Württemberg State Theater in Stuttgart in his first opera production in 1991 .

Discography (selection)

(Year; line-up: Carmen, José, Micaëla, Escamillo; conductor, choir, orchestra, label; version)


Films based on novella or opera:



  • Georges Bizet, Prosper Mérimée: Carmen. Opéra comique en quatre actes / Opera in four acts . Text book French-German. Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée. Translated and edited by Henning Mehnert. Reclam, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 978-3-15-009648-2 .

Web links

Commons : Carmen  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Bizet in Wilibald Gurlitt , Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (ed.): Riemann Musiklexikon (personal section A – K) . B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1959, p. 170 .