Carmen The Opera: Who? What? Where? Why? and How?

Carmen, the opera is experiencing a renewed interest around the world.

What? Is this because of the libretto based on a true-to-life account?

Who? Perhaps, the immoral, cruel, but bella character of Carmen has captured people’s interests?

Why? Maybe the fact that Carmen is one of the few operas that highlights a mezzo soprano. Many famous female opera singers in that voice range have performed it. On the other hand, some mezzo sopranos, such as Maria Callas and Cecilia Bartoli, have been reluctant to perform the role.

Where? The opera Carmen is an opera takes place in Spain and is sung in French – rather unusual in the standard opera repertoire. Most audiences associate opera with famous Italian operas.

How? Or, is the success of Carmen the opera due to a combined list of media, plot and staging factors?

Listen to opera music online

the Bohemian Dance from Act 4 of Carmen, the opera by Georges Bizet. Performed by the K&K Philharmoniker and the K&K Opernchor. Conducted by Myron Yusypovych.


Who Are the Characters in Carmen, the Opera?

Carmen in Carmen the Opera
Carmen in Carmen the Opera

In Carmen, the opera by Georges Bizet, the main character is, of course, Carmen. It is a mezzo-soprano role. Carmen is perhaps the most famous role for a mezzosoprano in all of opera’s repertoire.

Don Jos? is an infantry officer. He is the opera tenor and Carmen's love interest. Don Jos?'s struggles with his infatuation with Carmen, ultimately coming to a tragic resolution. This is one of the major conflicts in Carmen, the opera.

Escamillo is the toreador, a bull fighter and Don Jos?'s rival for Carmen's love. Escamillo is a bass-baritone role.

Mica?la is the soprano. In most operas, the heroine is the soprano and the supporting role is performed by the mezzo-soprano. But, not in Carmen, the opera. Mica?la is Don Jos?’s youthful love interest. Her feelings and resulting actions create the second major people-to-people conflict in Carmen, the opera.

Zuniga is an infantry officer and Don Jos?’s superior. In Carmen, the opera, he is a bass. Zuniga is the classic protagonist, sewing discord everywhere he goes.

The choir performs: soldiers, young men, cigarette factory girls, Escamillo’s supporters, gypsies, merchants and sellers, police, bullfighters, street urchins (played by children).


What Are the Main Conflicts and Themes in Carmen The Opera?

Escamillo and Carmen in the Opera
Escamillo and Carmen in the Opera

In Carmen the opera, there are two major people-to-people conflicts, which are classic triangle conflicts.

The first people-to-people triangle conflict is: Don Jos? – Carmen – Escamillo.

Carmen is a young gypsy girl. She Meets Don Jos?, an infantry officer outside the factory where she works. Initially, she is attracted to him and he ignores her. Subsequently, Don Jos? become infatuated with Carmen and deserts the army for her. Carmen and Don Jos? live together in the mountains. Carmen’s feeling turn to Escamillo, a bullfighter. Escamillo and Carmen become a couple, which infuriates Don Jos?. In the final scene of the opera Carmen, there is a murder of passion. Don Jos? kills Carmen, the woman he supposedly loves.

The second people-to-people triangle conflict is: Mica?la – Don Jos? – Carmen.

Mica?la and Don Jos? are from the same Spanish village and share a happy childhood. As the opera opens, Don Jos? has tender feelings for Mica?la and ignores Carmen’s advances. In time, he leaves Mica?la and the promise of a secure country life for Carmen and life as a renegade in the hills. Carmen’s rejection, instead of renewing the relationship between Don Jos? and Mica?la, precipitates the tragic conclusion.


Where in the World is Carmen the Opera?

Plaza de Toros in Carmen the Opera
Plaza de Toros in Carmen the Opera

The opera Carmen takes place in Spain. More specifically, the action, in Carmen the opera, is in Seville in the southern regions of Spain, close to the sea and the Strait of Gibraltar. Seville is known for:

  • the oldest bullring in Spain (built in the 18th C.) – The Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla

  • the 18th C. cigarette building, that used to belong to the Royal Tobacco Factory and is now the main administrative building of the University of Seville.

Carmen the opera is based on a French novella by the French writer Prosper M?rim?e (1803 – 1870). M?rim?e was inspired to write the story by a trip to Spain. Carmen the opera premiered in France at the Op?ra Comique. Carmen the opera is written, spoken (in the original version as envisioned by Georges Bizet) and sung in French.

And, if you thought that the title of this section – Where in the world is Carmen the opera? – sounded vaguely familiar, you were right. In the 1980s, there was a series of edutainment materials released to teach geography – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? In the 1990s, spin-offs included a television series, books and board games. They all featured Carmen Sandiego in her bright red costume, including the famous red hat.


Why do Some People Claim That Carmen the Opera Was Not Successful?

Carmen the Opera
Carmen the Opera

People are under the impression that Carmen the opera was not successful when it premiered. This is partially true – but, only partially. Remember, most famous operas have been rewritten and changed several times before reaching the form that we know and love to experience today.

So, what led to the initial lack of enthusiasm when Carmen, the opera premiered?

Opera up to the mid 1800s revolved around kings, queens, tsars, tsarinas, dukes, duchesses, princes, princesses and the royal court in general. Mythology and characters from the Greek and Roman myths were also part of the standard opera repertoire.

On the other hand, Georges Bizet in his opera Carmen went against this tradition and introduced “ordinary” people who worked in factories and anti-heroes who smuggled across state borders. This was not the norm for operas at the time.

According to Almaviva, there were many back-stage tensions during the production of Carmen, the opera prior to its premiere. Camille Du Locle (1832 – 1903), the General Director of the Th??tre de l'Op?ra-Comique at the time of Carmen, the opera’s premiere production, “had a co-director De Leuven, who hated the piece and resigned over Du Locle’s insistence in producing the opera, complaining that he wouldn’t allow the murder of a woman on ‘his’ stage.”

The opera Carmen premiered at the Op?ra Comique on March 3, 1875. Georges Bizet, the opera's composer, passed away on June 3, 1875 – exactly 3 months later. Some historians have said that his death was precipitated by his disappointment with the opera’s reception by the audience and critics. Perhaps!


How did Carmen the Opera Become So-o-o-o Famous?

Famous Carmen the Opera, Film, Musical, Ballet
Famous Carmen the Opera, Film, Musical, Ballet

Perhaps, Carmen the opera has become so famous because of a successfully orchestrated, albeit not deliberate, series of promotional factors.

In 1915, Carmen a silent film was produced in Hollywood. Although the film’s original promotional materials claim it is based on M?rim?e’s novella, it is actually the exact same story as in Carmen, the opera.

In 1943, Carmen Jones, a Broadway musical with music by Georges Bizet and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was staged. It takes place during World War II with a cast of African-Americans. Most of Bizet’s music is unchanged in the musical. However, Hammerstein adapted it to the nuance of Broadway performers, who were not black opera singers.

In 1949, Carmen was made into a full length ballet by “Les Ballets de Paris”. The music is from the opera by Georges Bizet, adapted and orchestrated for the ballet.

In 1954, Carmen Jones, the Broadway musical, was adapted into a film. Once again, it featured an African American black cast.

So, Carmen the opera, adapted into musicals, ballets and films, has created a noise.

But, perhaps the most curious contributor to the success of Carmen the opera is it’s children’s chorus. Many children’s choirs in cities around the world have participated in full scale productions produced by major opera companies in their city.

For example, Yaryna Kudla, Myron Yusypovych’s niece did so with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Canada.

Why I Love Opera!!

Yaryna Kudla
Yaryna Kudla

As a member of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, I have found opera to be very inspiring. We have many opportunities to work with professional opera singers. We can follow their example and maybe someday become a great star! It is a great honour just to have the chance to set foot on an opera stage. The feeling is magical and the music flows into your body!

Another reason why I love opera is the costumes and props are so fantastic. When you slip into your costume, you become a different person, the person that you're playing on that grand, wonderful stage. The costumes are specially fitted for you and the people that create them are the nicest people I've ever met, apart from my mom, of course! The props and costumes take you back in time and you have a sense of what it must have been like to live in different times.

Singing opera is a very thrilling experience – the music is beautiful, you learn different languages, become more confident and maybe even find your way to becoming a professional opera singer! All you need is a good voice, dedication, hard work and a good memory! I simply adore opera!!!

Yaryna Kudla (age 11)

Member of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company Principal Chorus