Composer. He wrote "Carmen" (1875), one of the best-loved operas of all time. Set among the gypsies and bullfighters of Spain, it is a violent, colorful tale of love and jealousy between an amoral gypsy woman and a weak-willed soldier. Many of the opera's melodies are almost as familiar as pop songs. They include the rousing "Prelude," the arias "Habanera," "The Toreador's Song," "Seguidilla," "The Flower Song," and "The Card Song," and the choral number "March of the Street Urchins." Early critics were shocked by the earthy naturalism of "Carmen," which was new to the operatic stage of the time. But the effectiveness of Bizet's music, with its irresistible tunes and exciting rhythms, conquered all objections and remains undiminished today. Alexandre-Cesar-Leopold Bizet was born in Paris, into a musical family. He was given the name Georges at his baptism in 1840. A child prodigy, he entered the Paris Conservatory at age nine and distinguished himself as a brilliant pianist; his playing would later be praised by Franz Liszt, among others. While still a student he composed his well-known Symphony in C (1855), though he dismissed it as a mere exercise and it was not performed until 1935. He won the Conservatory's top award, the Prix de Rome, in 1857. After three years of post-graduate study in Italy, he returned to Paris in 1860 and sought his fortune as an opera composer. Bizet was an impulsive man, sensitive to criticism and rather bohemian in his lifestyle. He started many stage projects but completed only a few, and most of his career was spent in obscurity. His first important opera, "The Pearl Fishers" (1863), was poorly received, as was his next, "The Young Girl of Perth" (1867). When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870 Bizet joined the National Guard, even though his Prix de Rome status exempted him from military service. He came back in poor health, suffering from a chronic throat ailment (stemming from tonsillitis) that would afflict him the rest of his life. But he now wrote with greater assurance and maturity. He produced a one-act opera, "Djamileh" (1872), and his finest instrumental opuses, "Children's Games" (1871) for piano duet, and the incidental score for Alphonse Daudet's play "L'Arlesienne" (1872). The two orchestral suites derived from "L'Arlesienne" are famous and show Bizet's style approaching perfection. "Carmen,, adapted from a novella by Prosper Merimee, was composed in a white heat of inspiration, belying his cynical attitude towards it. (Writing "The Toreador's Song" he quipped, "If they want trash, I'll give it to them"). It was his last work. Just three months after its premiere in March 1875, Bizet died of a heart attack at 36. He did not live to see the renown his masterpiece would soon bring him. Contrary to legend, the original Paris production of "Carmen" was not a fiasco that broke the composer's spirit and led to his early death. Reviewers focused their attacks on the story and characters, which they considered sordid and inappropriate; Bizet's music was generally praised. It enjoyed a respectable first-season run and by 1880 it had been successfully performed in Vienna, Brussels, London, and New York. Since then "Carmen" has been staged around the world more times than any other opera. Bizet is now considered one of the most important French Romantic composers. He broke with the stuffy Grand Opera tradition by writing music that was uncomplicated and popular in appeal. His influences were eclectic and even contradictory, combining Verdi's lyrical directness with Wagner's use of recurring themes, with a dash of Offenbach thrown in; but his technical mastery and forceful creative personality made his music unmistakably his own. Along with Gounod and Massenet, Bizet has been hailed as a founder of the French Lyric Theatre.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
A / Georges Bizet / sa famille / et ses amis / 1838-1875