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This Day in History - March 3

Georges Bizet's 'Carmen' premiered.
Video | March 3, 2017 | By Jonathan Shipley


On this day, in 1875, at the Opera-Comique in Paris, Georges Bizet's scandalous opera, Carmen, premiered. One of the most popular operas performed in the world today, Bizet did see how popular it would become. He died suddenly after the opera's 33rd performance at the age of 36. 

The opera is set in Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don Jose, a soldier seduced by the gyspy Carmen. Obsessed with the seductress, he loses everything, including her love to a toreador. Jealous, he kills her. It was shocking to audiences to have a main character die on stage. Add to that, depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness and immorality, the opera was critically panned. The premiere was attended by such luminary composers as Massenet, Offenbach and Gounod. Gounod complained bitterly, during the performance, that Bizet had stolen his melodies for one of the arias. The next day's press ranged from disappointment to outrage. 

The opera didn't gain its reputation until it was performed in other countries. It wasn't performed in Paris again until 1883. Since, the opera has gained in popularity since. New York's The Met has performed it almost 1,000 times. The San Francisco Opera performed it as part of their 2015-16 season. You can read the Encore Arts Program of that peformance, here. The Seattle Opera has performed it several times. You can read about those performances, here.

One of the most famous aspects of the opera is the "Toreador Song": 

Another famous aria from the opera is "Habanera": 

Here is the opera in full: