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Introduction

Don José is a young soldier in the army in Seville. He intends to marry Micaëla, a girl from his home village, but when he meets the sensual and high-spirited Carmen, his head is soon turned…

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Background

Carmen was based on a popular novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée, which enticed French readers with exotic tales of Spain. Its heady combination of passion, sensuality and violence initially proved too much for the stage and Georges Bizet’s opera was a critical failure on its premiere in 1875. Bizet died shortly after, never learning of the spectacular success Carmen would achieve – it has been staged over 500 times at Covent Garden alone.

Carmen contains many well-loved numbers, such as Carmen’s seductive Habanera and Escamillo’s rousing Toreador’s song, in which he celebrates the thrill of the bullfight. Richly coloured designs capture the sultry heat of the Spanish sun, while ranks of soldiers, crowds of peasants, gypsies and bullfighters bring 19th-century Seville alive. This combination of memorable music, vivid setting and dramatic story have made Carmen one of the most popular operas in the world.