Enter the Bullfighter

Overture to Carmen by Georges Bizet

The titles of operas from the Romantic Era have a rather uncanny frequency of acting as an announcement of who will die by the time the curtain falls. Turandot is a notable exception, but one could argue that  Puccini died before he had a chance to kill her.

Carmen did not quite enjoy that fate, though it was the last opera of Georges Bizet. The composer sadly did not live long enough after its completion to watch its success after the initially dismal response at the Opéra Comique.

Listed as a Prelude, but more commonly referred to as an overture, the work contains two main elements: a Spanish dance foreshadowing the gypsy in the character of Carmen, and the Toreador’s Song. The choice of that particular aria highlights the testosterone-high introduction of the bullfighter (i.e. the Spanish “toreador”) Escamillo, charming Carmen and highlighting the romantic fickleness that would eventually lead to her murder at the hands of another suitor, Don José.

The brilliant melody is sung by the strings, accompanied by a martial brass accompaniment, heralding Escamillo’s call in Act II:

Toreador, on guard!
Toreador! Toreador!
And, as you fight, just think that from above
Dark eyes send down their regard
With promises of love,
Toreador, with promises of love!

Bizet’s brilliant orchestration also puts the brilliant clash of the cymbals centerstage, and utilizes trills in heightening tension, capturing the spirit of unrequited love and the grandeur of the bullring.

~ Andrew Filmer with reference to Prof. Coby Lubliner for the translation of the original French lyrics.


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