Born: 25 October 1838, Paris, France
Died: 3 June 1875, Bougival, France
Carmen was not a success. The critics didn’t like it, and the public were immune to the gypsy’s charms. These days it’s possibly the best known, best loved opera in the world, and many of its tunes have entered popular culture. It’s so popular it’s easy to overlook just how good it is. (The Dad’s Army syndrome.) It’s brilliantly orchestrated, catchy, dramatic, and full of life and brio.
He wrote other operas, you know. Most of them were unsuccessful; the critics panned Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) and Djamileh, but even his most obscure works have moments of genius.
- Le docteur Miracle (1857)
- Les pêcheurs de perles (1863)
- La jolie fille de Perth (1867)
- Marlbrough s’en-va-t-en guerre (1867, Act I only)
- Djamileh (1872)
- Carmen (1875)
- Don Procopio (1906; composed 1858–59)
- Ivan IV (1946; composed 1862–65)
- La coupe du roi de Thulé (1955, excerpts only ; composed 1868–69)
He would be seventy-three years old …
He is still the solid fellow, broad-shouldered, with a happy smile, thick hair, and abundant beard. This handsome blonde is a handsome white now. Not a hair is missing, not a tooth. As he could when he was thirty years old, he can still, at a luncheon with friends, crush a whole crayfish in his powerful jaw, and then eat it.
His career has been a continuous triumph. With Saint-Saëns and Massenet, his contemporaries or almost, he formed at the Institut a beautiful musical trinity, very French, owing nothing except to French culture. To the logical grace and the Athenian grace of the author of Samson and Dalila, to the passionate tenderness of the musician of Manon, he added his sense of color and of the picturesque. His work is above all a work of life and light, for it is indeed the light that he always sung, either on the tambourines of Spain or in the cries of the cicadas of Provence …
With a smile that speaks volumes, he often thinks of the past, of his so difficult beginnings, of Carmen so disputed, today universally played, admired, acclaimed … Also, further enhanced by experience, is his benevolence infinite for the Young, whom he loves and always helps as brothers, not as confreres.
Tonight he is at the Opéra-Comique. He wanted to hear Louise, by Charpentier, of which he still knows only the score. He listens, attentive and silent. And he who, because of his sense of color, one could name the Delacroix of music, is charmed by this ardently colored music.