• The Music of CARMEN

    By COC Staff

    Returning to the COC stage this October, Bizet’s Carmen stars two dazzling mezzo-sopranos in the title role—Grammy Award-winner J’Nai Bridges and Ensemble Studio graduate Rihab Chaieb. Our acclaimed production pushes the iconic opera a century forward to the 1950s, and transports audiences to a sun-drenched setting that crackles with electricity and drama.  

    Featuring some of opera’s most memorable music, Carmen excites and delights audiences to this day. After an initial mixed reception in 1876—and the death of its composer not long after—the opera saw a series of tweaks by Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud that finally led to a successful showing in Venice and eventual worldwide success. By 1943, legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the show for the Broadway stage with Carmen Jones, translating the lyrics from French to English and updating 19th-century Spain to World War II-era America. 

    Moving from the stage to the screen, Hollywood icon Otto Preminger adapted Hammerstein’s play into the 1954 musical film Carmen Jones. While the play largely left Bizet’s work intact, Preminger sought to expand on Bizet and Hammerstein’s work through the original source material, the Prosper Mérimée novella. The film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Score, and is best remembered for the achievements of its stars: celebrated singer Harry Belafonte and actress Dorothy Dandridge, whose role here would make her the first Black film star nominated for an Academy Award.

    Of course, the music of Carmen—like that of The Flying Dutchman—has also made its mark on the big screen in countless scenes throughout film and television history. Academy Award-winning films Up, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Going My Way each heavily feature the iconic Carmen aria “Habanera,” alongside other major motion pictures like Magnolia, Superman Returns, Bad News Bears, and more. 

    So what makes Carmen’s music so memorable? As one of the most famous examples of the Opéra comique genre—a fluid term largely referring to French operas containing spoken dialogue and arias—Carmen has been celebrated for its brilliant expressions of emotion both in words and orchestration. Inspired by Spanish folksongs and flamenco music rhythms, Bizet incorporated a wide range of musical styles throughout to evoke the opera’s atmosphere and drama. Most notably, “Habanera” is based on the Spanish idiomatic song “El Arreglito.” 

    Through its many inspirations, updates, and adaptations, one thing remains constant: Carmen’s perfect blend of strong-willed characters, passionate emotion, and larger-than-life score is a recipe for an unforgettable theatrical experience. Enjoy a taste of our fall production with a clip from our 2022/2023 Season Preview Concert!

    Join us for Carmen, opening October 14 and running until November 4, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts! Tickets on sale Friday, September 2.

    Photo: Michael Cooper
    Posted in 22/23 Season


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