Young Georges Bizet died soon after the premiere of Carmen, and thus never enjoyed the success of his creation. Carmen wasn’t initially well received, but became, and still is, one of the most famous and popular works in the opera repertoire. The stark realism (interjected with comedy) was initially considered ―too much‖ for the opera going public; it is now considered a stroke of Bizet’s genius. During an unusually long rehearsal period, the orchestra complained that the music was too difficult, and the chorus complained that it was too challenging to act like a group of individuals, rather than a homogeneous block responding as a unit. Fortunately, Bizet had allies in the production, and his vision for the opera was realized. Composers ranging from Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky to Verdi and Wagner all expressed admiration for the work. More so than any ―celebrity endorsement,‖ it is the brilliant music that maintains Carmen’s legacy: even complete opera novices will recognize the famous tunes that make up the bulk of this opera.
For this production, La Scala has hand-picked some of the hottest new talent in the opera world, including German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott, Italian soprano Adriana Damato, and up-and-coming Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, who won the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition last year.
CARMEN is the story of fatal attraction between Carmen, the hot-blooded gypsy, and Don José, the upstanding corporal in the Spanish army who’s already engaged to another woman. Don José begins to fall for Carmen as she sings the famous song of seduction, the Habañera. When he helps her avoid arrest, he is thrown in prison. Upon his release, he seeks her out; as a result, his life continues to unravel. Upon hearing his mother is dying, he heads home, vowing to Carmen that they will be together again soon. When he returns, he discovers Carmen in a rapturous affair with Escamillo, a dashing toreador. Don José, now bitter and angry, stabs her to death just as Escamillo wins the fight in the bullring. As the spectators leave the arena, Don José throws himself on her dead body and confesses his guilt.