George Bizet, who was born in Paris in 1838, was considered a great prodigy as a child and by the age of 17 wrote his first symphony. In his life he produced some 150 pieces for his instrument, the piano. Unfortuantely, after his initial good success, he produced a string of works that have faded into obscurity. Among these were a number of operas, which suffered from weak librettos.
Bizet was a plump gourmand and supposedly could be seen often scoffing down some bonbon or small cake on the streets of the suburb of Paris where he lived. Around the age of 34, he started composing operas which caught the attention of the critics, and finally produced the work for which he is universally known, Carmen. Carmen is about a loose gypsy woman who works in a cigarette factory. She plays one lover against the other and is eventually killed by one. Bizet’s opera first did not thrill the critics. The morals of the girl was quite shocking, even for Parisian. It did catch on and is now one of the best loved of all the operas in the repertoire. Unfortunately, Bizet did not live to see its success. He died of a heart attack after its 31st performance at the age of 36. A few years later, it was being mounted in every major opera house in Europe.
I will probably write more about different arias from the opera later, because it is filled with such wonderful music that can stand on its own. The Suite N. 1 is a good introduction to it and contains the major themes.