Bizet – Suite No. 1 from Carmen

by Max Derrickson

Georges Bizet  (b Paris, October 25, 1838; Bougival, France, June 3, 1875)

Suite No. 1 from Carmen
1. Aragonaise
2. Intermezzo
3. Marche du Toréador


Despite its less than enthusiastic premiere at the Opéra Comique in Paris, 1875, Bizet’s  Carmen has become what may be the most popular opera ever written.  A few years ago it was even a delightfully adapted for a film in Uganda (sung in Swahili!) called U-Carmen.  In its time it seemed scandalous, what with its gypsies, thieves, prostitutes and murder in the sleazy underbelly of Seville society, but in a very short time it garnered high praise.  And no wonder.  Every tune in this great opera is refreshingly beautiful and rich in orchestral color.  Tragically, Bizet died before he was able to enjoy Carmen’s successes.  Shortly thereafter, two orchestra suites were fashioned by Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud which are regularly performed in the concert hall.   Suite No. 1 begins with the sultry and carefree Aragonaise, its tambourine ostinato recreating the crackling Sevillian atmosphere, its flutes evoking the breezes of a summer day.  The Intermezzo is one of the great melodies of the 19th Century, and the March of the Toreador is full of such exuberance and bravura that it beckons the listener to get up and march alongside the cocky bullfighter, and proudly puff their chest.