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From its origins as a Merimee novella, ???Carmen??™ was transformed into a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, and then, with the addition Bizet??™s music, into an opera. Each specific genre has its own individuality, culminating in an opera of magnificent magnitude.
Merimee??™s novella was an early example of realism, and as such, was not well received by its audience, who felt that it was a little too real. The characters were ???course and unscrupulous,???[1] and as Carmen was a gypsy, that particular ethnic group was not thought of in a positive light.

In his novella, Merimee uses the framing device of a narrator, meaning that the reader is left with a view of Carmen that is unreliable. However, through describing her physical appearance as well as the stylistic device of imagery, the reader is alerted to the possibility of the complexity of Carmen. For example, when Don Jose first meets Carmen, he describes her, ???wearing a very short red skirt ??“ dainty red morocco shoes ??“ flame coloured ribbons..???[2] The colour is very significant, as red is a very provocative colour, and the same could be said of Carmen. The librettists are aware of the significance of Carmen??™s entrance and appearance, stating that, ???Her entrance and costume should be exactly as described by Merimee.???[3] However, the librettists did not agree with the novella entirely, making changes, to make it more palatable to the audience, by removing the ???crudely realistic features,???[4] and eliminating the narrator, although the realist setting remained. In the novella, Carmen is presented as an unscrupulous, fearless liar and thief; the violence of her feelings dominates; the opera tries to portray her in a more positive light ??“ the first time in opera that a woman could ???flout morality and still remain the heroine of the work.???[5] However, Merimee??™s Carmen ??“ a woman who was in total control, the leader of the smugglers for example, created a controversy in the opera as the idea of such a feisty woman was a new phenomenon. As a result, in the libretto, Carmen is merely a member of the smuggler??™s gang, and her criminal activities reduced.

Nowinski states that ???a literary work is composed of form and subject matter; a musical composition, particularly an opera, while including these two elements, also contains other dimensions ??“ melodic material, rhythmic values, tonality and orchestration.???[6] The changes to Carmen??™s character for the opera were resisted by Bizet. Bizet had worker with Meilhac and Halevy on the libretto, even adding a few words and phrases of his own. However, it is the extraordinary music that Bizet adds to the libretto which transforms it into the great opera that it became. Bizet adds to the characterisation of Carmen though his music, and in particular, through the two motifs that are associated with her; the first of which is the fate/death motif. Rooted in Spanish music, with its augmented seconds, this dramatic motif is first introduced by cellos just after the prelude, and is then always associated with the character of Carmen. This predominant motif which foreshadows Carmen??™s fate descends from the tonic to the dominant ??“ however, ???Bizet does not feel compelled to always use the ???same figure for the same poetical idea,???[7] for example, when Carmen reads the cards, she ???bursts into a song which ends with a dramatic version of the chromatic motif.???[8][expand]

To illustrate the differences/similarities between the novella, libretto and the opera, I have chosen to look at one particular scene, which is present in all three; that of the Carmen??™s first entrance. As Carmen appears from the factory, Bizet adds to the tension and superstition suggested by both the novella and the libretto by adding to the aria a rapid repeat of the fate theme associated with Carmen.[9] Rather than the usual eighth notes, andante, the motif is speeded up into sixteenth notes, allegro. Bizet is reflecting with his music what Merimee, and Meilhac and Halevy have done with their words ??“ adding significance to Carmen??™s entrance, as well as suggesting to the audience of the true outcome of any allegiance between Carmen and Don Jose. By presenting ???Carmen??™ as an opera, Carmen is a true visual character: she is not only associated with risky and provocative clothing and behaviour through the medium of words, but an opera provides a truly holistic characterisation. Meilhac and Halevy??™s libretto states in the stage directions, ???(Carmen) gestures and flirts,???[10] and opera provides the audience with an indication of how much Carmen plays up to this. For it to be credible that a committed soldier such as Don Jose could be so easily led astray, it is essential that Carmen is presented as such an amoral character. When this suggestive behaviour is accompanied by Bizet??™s atmospheric and emotional music, the heroine seems very different to that initially presented by Merimee.

Bizet supposedly wrote over ten revisions of the Habanera until he was satisfied with it.[11]
Its melody is based on a descending chromatic scale, with the same phrase repeated first in the minor key, then in the major when the chorus sings ??“ see figure 1.

Figure 1

This change in key despite the same score emphasises the dichotomy between Carmen and the cigar-girls and other youths. Musically, Carmen is characterised as she sings, ???When will I love you……..Perhaps never!???[13] This indifference and vagueness in her promise of love which is so effective in the libretto is a change from the novella, where on their first meeting, Carmen mocks Don Jose and his priming pin, ??? ???Your priming pin!??? she cried, with a laugh. ???Oho! I suppose the gentleman makes lace, as he wants pins!???[14] This contrast in the characterisation of Carmen really emphasises the differences that can occur when literature is transformed into an opera, with, in my opinion, the hinted darkness and capriciousness of the librettists??™ character being the most effective and enigmatic. However, ———- felt that the opposite was in fact true, stating,

???By its very nature, the written word communicates more directly than its vocal equivalent. This factor is especially crucial in Merimee whose prose style is a model of condensation, precision, sobriety and understatement. Inevitably, Bizet??™s protagonists appear redundant and verbose in comparison with their literary counterparts.???[15]

In his opera, Bizet chooses to emphasise Carmen??™s ability to pass very quickly from one sentiment to another by reflecting this in his music. For example, the Habanera is based on a real Spanish folk-song, and is the ???haunting numbers of the opera; the embodiment of coquetry and abandonment; simple in construction???[16] There are some moments quicker than others, and some more staccato [explain which ones] reflecting the quickness and sharpness of Carmen??™s character. As Carmen leaves Don Jose to go with the factory girls, the fate / death motif is heard again, along with the melody of the Habanera. The rhythm in the Habanera, particulary the Spanish rhythm is very important, as it is Carmen??™s first aria. The use of a 4 note tango rhythm (see figure 2) with its descending chromatic quality provide an

Figure 2

excellent symbol of Carmen ??“ ???snake ??“ like???[18] and sultry. During the soldiers??™ repitition of her melody, Carmen demonstrates her seductiveness by interposing ???L??™amour???[19] three times.

As mentioned previously, there are two motifs associated with Carmen ??“ as well as the fate motif there is also a second theme, one which represents her influence over Don Jose.

[1] Carmen study guide
[2] novella
[3] libretto
[6] Nowinski,J (1970) ???Sense and Sound in George Bizet??™s Carmen??™, The French Review, Vol. 43, No. 6 (May, 1970), pp. 891-900
[7] Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 8, (1945), pp. 199-203, A Musical Symbol of Death
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[8] Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 8, (1945), pp. 199-203, A Musical Symbol of Death
[9] Dvd5 track 5
[10] ibretto
[11] Winton Dean (1980). “Bizet, Georges”, in Sadie, Stanley: The New Grove. Macmillan.? 
[13] Libretto act1 scene V
[14] Novella p30
[15] Jstor ??“ The French Review vol XLIII No 6, May 1970


[19] libretto