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And now, on with our show.
This week is all about Carmen.
Probably the most performed opera in the world, Carmen is an opera in four acts set in Seville during the 1820s. The opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José (tenor), who is taken away from his role as a soldier, and his love Micaëla (soprano) by a gypsy named Carmen (mezzo-soprano). He is later lured into joining Carmen’s crew, but gets insanely jealous when she is around others. This all comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her passion for the bull-fighter Escamillo (baritone). The opera's last act is set outside the bull ring in Seville, where Carmen is stabbed to death by Don José. 😳
Today we’re listening to the Habanera, or “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Act I of the French opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. While there have been great interpretations of the title role over the years (we will talk more about this in our next post), we’ve decided to share Victoria de los Ángeles with you today.
Even if you don’t know the opera, you will know this tune (and many more to come later this week)!
🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen):
The Habanera is sung by the title character, Carmen in Act I after she and the other women workers exit the cigarette factory and gather in the town square. Groups of soldiers already in the square begin flirting with the women, including Carmen. They ask her when she will love them, and she replies with this aria.
Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame,
and you call him quite in vain if it suits him not to come.
Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.
One man talks well, the other’s mum; it's the other one that I prefer.
He's silent but I like his looks.
Bizet was a heavy smoker and unfortunately died of a heart attack at 36, three months after Carmen’s premiere. Like many of the great operas, it wasn’t a success when it was first performed in 1875. But despite that, it appears Bizet knew he’d written something special. In a letter to a friend, he wrote the feeling of “absolute certainty of having found my path”.
Sesame Street created a stop-motion film of an orange singing the Habanera.
While a mezzo-soprano traditionally performs Carmen’s title role, it’s impossible not to include Maria Callas singing this aria. Callas never performed the role on stage, but when she sings Carmen, she becomes Carmen. Many point to this recording of Callas singing the title role alongside Nicolai Gedda as one of the greatest. To quote a critic, “Callas isn't Carmen, Carmen is Callas.” This performance of Callas singing the Habanera in Covent Garden from 1962 was shared with me by someone in this community during Maria Callas week. In addition to the recommendation itself being stellar, I thought the comment they shared with me was so spot on:
She looks happy and radiant and delivers the piece with a mischievous twinkle. It must have been so uplifting to have sat in that audience watching her and absorbing in all that passion!
Thank you to this member and all of you for your thoughtful comments and shares along the way.
Thank you again for listening and for coming along on this journey so far,
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I welcomed Bizet's "Habanera" today. I now know this is the entrance aria of the title character in Act 1, Scene 5. Not only is the music wonderful, but you've given me permission to sample some of the many interpretations.
I ran the gauntlet of the divas you mentioned, and added a couple of my own choosing.
Here are my snap judgments on what I heard, after listening twice to each, and a third time to Maria Callas. Her interpretation was seductive, her French diction impeccable, her voice magnificent. What else can I do but praise her?
Victoria de Los Angeles, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR9AWv5TMDg
I found her voice sweet, alluring and fortunately, not overwhelmed by the chorus or orchestra
Leontyne Price, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60xFeualnp8
She has a lovely voice, is technically excellent, but I found her delivery somewhat leaden.
Elīna Garanča, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHjnVz7Ayyw&feature=youtu.be
I felt her lighter, prettier soprano captured the spirit of the wild, free-spirited gypsy Carmen.
Grace Bumbry, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByFMbyQJhgs
She sounded, to me, a tad overwrought and her rendition a bit too grand for the character.
Denyce Graves, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V9woZuVIO4J
Her mezzo soprano voice has grown richer, fuller and more beautiful with time and experience.
Curiosity about Madeleine Mathieu led me to the source of the image in "Forgotten opera singers" http://forgottenoperasingers.blogspot.com/2014/02/madeleine-mathieu-soprano.html
I enjoyed the "Sesame Street" whimsy. It brought an old Bugs Bunny cartoon spoof to mind:
I will return to "Rinaldo" soon because Handel is always a good choice for the holiday season. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!
P.S. So much great opera throughout these past months has made 2020 bearable. I look forward to seeing what else you have up your sleeve. 🎶🎵
CARMEN is brilliant musically but the libretto, not so much. We sang CARMEN in a vapid English translation in high school. The Met version by Leonard Bernstein w Marilyn Horne was rough and ready. Callas brilliant but Bizet died before it premiered. De Los Angelas very late in her career sang CARMEN at City Opera that got scathing reviews. CARMEN still thrives,