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10 Facts About Carmen from Director Tara Faircloth

Caitie Quick – January 30, 2016

Carmen is one of the most beloved and frequently performed operas in the world, and even if you've never set foot in an opera house, you probably already know the big tunes. Here are ten things that you may not know about this opera:

10 Facts About Bizet's Carmen

  1. French composer Georges Bizet wrote over 30 operas, but Carmen is the only one that is performed with any regularity.
  2. After its premiere in 1875, Carmen was critically panned, and many believe the poor reception led to Bizet's early death at age 36. He died without knowing just how beloved his opera would become.
  3. The leading man in the story, Don José, had trained to be a priest. As a youth, he got into a fight after a game of paume (kind of like tennis) and killed a man. He fled his homeland and joined the military.
  4. Micaëla, Don José's hometown sweetheart, usually has blond hair. She and José are from the Basque region of Navarre, in the northern part of Spain. The Navarrese were often quite fair.
  5. When Don José attacks Escamillo in the mountains, he uses a Navaja knife. This large folding knife could lock open, and was favored for its easy concealment, making it very popular among the criminal element.
  6. The most famous song in the opera features a completely made up word: “Toreador.” The proper term is “torero,” but Bizet needed another syllable to fit his tune.
  7. Matadors often came from a very poor background and chose the sport as a way to get out of poverty. In early days, the prize for killing a bull was an ear (or two for an excellent performance!). This also meant the bullfighter could claim the meat of the bull. Finding a patron to act as a sponsor was the quickest way out of poverty.
  8. Our production features a parade of large puppets called Gigantes, which wear the costumes of the Alguacil (a referee) as well as the bull-fighting assistants from the different stages of the fight: the picador, chulo and the banderilleros. Each of these assistants have very specific roles during each stage of the fight. Escamillo is the matador, the star of the last stage of the bull fight: Tercio de Muerte, the “part of death.”
  9. A great quote from the beleaguered Bizet: “Ah, music! What a beautiful art! But what a wretched profession!"
  10. Bizet never set foot in Spain during his lifetime.

-Tara Faircloth, Director for Carmen