The girl with the rose

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am

When Carmen dances, she places a red rose between her teeth, she clicks her castanets to the rhythm of the music, flicks her skirt and flashes her dark eyes. Everyone watching is entranced.

Bizet's 'Carmen'

Operas present the stories they tell through music and song. The composer writes the music, the librettist writes the words and the singers sing and act the characters. The world of opera covers every type of story from the funny to the tragic and everything else in between. But most of the stories told by the world's greatest operas are adaptations from novels or stage plays. In Paris in 1873, composer Georges Bizet and his two libretto writers were asked by the Opera-Comique theatre company to write an opera based on a popular novel called Carmen. It revolved around a tragic love-triangle between a beautiful Spanish gypsy girl and two men. Bizet kept the novel's title for his opera which premiered in Paris on March 3, 1875.

A tragic triangle

The story of Carmen is set in the hot and dusty Spanish city of Seville. An innocent young soldier, Don Jose, has fallen in love with a beautiful gypsy girl called Carmen who makes cigarettes in a local factory. Carmen thinks that Don Jose is boring, but she leads him on, letting him think he has a chance of becoming her boyfriend. Carmen then meets a rich bullfighter called Escamillo and realises he is the man who can give her the exciting life she wants. She tells Don Jose that she doesn't want to see him any more. But the soldier is so blinded by his love for Carmen that he goes crazy and stabs her to death. The story of the soldier, the gypsy girl and the bullfighter ends in tragedy with blood being spilled on the streets of Seville.

A big fat flop

You probably know some of the music from the opera Carmen even though you don't realise where it comes from. Bits of music from Bizet's opera are used for TV commercials, cinema background music and even wallpaper music in shopping malls. But there is nothing as exciting as hearing the whole of Bizet's score played and sung in an opera house or theatre. Today, more than 130 years since it was written, Carmen is one of the most popular operas in the world. But Bizet's masterpiece wasn't always the hit it is today. Audiences stayed away from the premiere production in Paris and critics thought both the story and the score were absolutely dreadful. Bizet died during the first disastrous production of his opera, never knowing that he had written a masterpiece that the world would eventually love.

Carmen Fact File

Complete these statements about the opera Carmen.

1 Carmen is a (20th / 19th century) French opera.

2 The action of the opera is set in (France / Spain).

3 The opera's (hero / heroine) is a beautiful gypsy girl.

4 Carmen's story ends in (comedy /tragedy).

5 All the events in the opera revolve around a love (square / triangle).

6 Don Jose is a (priest /soldier) and Escamillo is a (bullfighter/boxer).

7 Carmen was a (success /flop) when it was first performed in Paris.

8 Georges Bizet wrote the (music / libretto) for Carmen.


April 13

Research: 1. a, 2. b, 3. a, 4. b, 5. a, 6. a, 7. b, 8. a, 9. a, 10. b

Opera or not?: 1/ 4/ 5/ 6/ 8 are famous operas

You can watch high-definition screenings of some of the world?s greatest operas performed by the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Sponsored by the Foundation for the Arts and Music in Asia, the screenings have been running since earlier this year. Still to come are Der Rosenkavalier, Carmen, Armida, Hamlet and Simon Boccanegra. Tickets from HK Ticketing on 31288 288