I had previously seen the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet, so I thought I’d revisit it on CD during my opera phase in November. When I listened to the commentary CD for it (produced by the Chicago Lyric Opera), I discovered that the story was originally a novella by Prosper Merimee, so I downloaded the novella and read it as well.
Because Merimee’s novella seemed short and superficial, I can’t say it was a wonderful read. That said, I could recall the music as I read and imagine Carmen dancing to it, so I did enjoy reading the story in the end.
I didn’t enjoy Bizet’s opera as much as I enjoyed Mozart. It was not as smooth, and I found it harder to relax into. I don’t know how to explain it: it felt like an opera as I was listening, while listening to The Magic Flute was more like listening to beautiful music. Carmen the opera was pretty shocking when it first came out, considering the main character is a prostitute and there is a murder by the end. Bizet died a few months over its opening, thinking at his death that it was a failure. Of course, it took a little while, but now it’s recognized as pretty cutting-edge (in terms of music and plot development) for its day. Isn’t it interesting how the cutting-edge artists are always misunderstood at first?
At any rate, I was glad to read the original novella. It surprised me, however, to find that the main narrator is a Frenchman travelling through Spain (Merimee himself), and not anyone close to Carmen. This traveler meets the infamous Don Jose and the seductive gypsy, Carmen, through his travels. A few years later, he discovers that Don Jose is jail for murder, and he goes to hear his story. Chapter III (of IV), then, is the full story of Carmen and Don Jose’s relationship.
After this fabulous story, Chapter IV then digresses to the narrator’s studies of the gypsies, and I didn’t get it. I think the author’s intent is to show that people have no choice but to turn to crime. Don Jose’s last comment had been this, referring to Carmen:
“Poor child! It’s the calle who are to blame for having brought her up as they did.”
So maybe the narrator’s comments in the last section supported that idea. To me, it fell a little flat as a novella.
Then again, maybe Merimee really intended just to tell the story of a seductive and sexy woman. In the end, I didn’t find it to be superior writing or incredibly engaging, but it certainly was fun. Considering it was a rather short story (about 60 pages in Word, 12-point font), I am satisfied I read it. (I read it via Project Gutenberg.)
Have you read Carmen or seen the opera?
Do you think there is a “point” to it?