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Carmen: Quick Start Guide

Carmen Dress Rehearsal
Carmen Dress Rehearsal

An Opera in Four Acts
Music by Georges Bizet | Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy

Sung in French with projected English translation

Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center

The performance lasts approximately 2 hours and 55 minutes, including one intermission.

a Co-Production with Lyric Opera of Chicago

Performance Dates: 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Friday, November 5, 2021

Saturday, November 6, 2021 

Sunday, November 7m, 2021 


Story in a Nutshell:

Love, lust, jealousy, and death—Carmen has all the elements to make it one of the most popular operas in the world. Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera follows the story of a defiant young woman, Carmen, and the men who become obsessed with her. The opera opens in the town square, where soldiers are guarding the cigarette factory. The workers from the factory file out, and one woman captures everyone’s attention through her beauty and assertive nature. Don José becomes infatuated with Carmen and is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his girlfriend Micaela. After an incident at the factory, Carmen is brought into military custody, where Don José eventually allows her to escape, furthering his obsession with her.


When the bullfighter Escamillo arrives in town, tensions arise between him and Don José. Refusing to lose the love of his life, Don José joins the group of revolutionaries that Carmen is associated with, but his wild jealousy continues to drive a wedge between the two. It becomes clear that Carmen is pulling away from Don José, and his obsession with her intensifies after she tells him to return home to Micaela. In the last act, outside of the bullfighting ring, Don José realizes he can never control Carmen. And if he cannot have her, no one can.


What to Listen For

From The Muppet Show to Pixar’s UP, the Olympics to a Pepsi-centric rendition featuring Beyoncé, the music from Bizet’s Carmen can be found all throughout pop culture. In fact, the title character’s “Habanera” and Escamillo’s “Toreador Song” both appear in movies, TV shows, and at sporting events so frequently, each has its own Wikipedia page.


Habanera: One of the most famous arias in the world, the “Habanera” is performed by the sultry title character in Act I. The aria’s score was adapted from the habanera "El Arreglito ou la Promesse de mariage" by Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier, which Bizet incorrectly thought was a folk song. Although the opera’s libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Bizet wrote the aria’s lyrics. The composer rewrote the aria multiple times with the help of the original Carmen, mezzo-soprano Célestine Galli-Marié.

The Toreador Song (original name: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre): While trying to impress Carmen, Escamillo performs “The Toreador Song” in Act II. The aria is built on a descending chromatic scale in the verses and a triumphant, bombastic refrain as Escamillo describes the bullfighting ring, singing “Toréador, en garde!”


Fun Fact

Carmen’s premiere was one of the most famous flops of all time. Bizet, who considered this show to be his masterpiece, died three months after its infamous debut, never knowing that Carmen would go on to become one of the most loved and performed operas in the world. 

Everybody Dance Now

 Tony-winning director/dancemaker Rob Ashford has a background in choreographing Broadway musicals including Thoroughly Modern Millie and Evita, among many others. This production’s dance numbers are truly special, telling the opera’s story in the background. During the opera’s musical interludes, the principal dancers’ movements mirror what the characters are going through.

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet

Catherine Matusow

About the author

Catherine Matusow

Catherine Matusow is Associate Director of Communications at Houston Grand Opera.

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