Bizet once wrote in a letter: ‘I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil and the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note’. His opera Carmen wholeheartedly embraces this credo. This hot-blooded tale of erotic obsession shocked its first-night audiences with its low-life theme and violent conclusion. Carmen’s blatant sexuality, her readiness to discard men like picked flowers, and the rowdy women of the chorus who both fight and smoke onstage, were strong fare for the Opera-Comique’s traditionally family atmosphere.
The score has , over the years, been subjected to a number of revisions, which have taken the opera further away from Bizet’s original intentions. It was first performed as an opera comique with dialogue, but for the Viennese premiere it was thought beneficial to have some of the dialogue set as recitative. Bizet’s pupil and colleague Ernest Guiraud undertook the task with sufficient success for this version to be adopted by most of the large non-French opera houses for the next eighty years. In 1964 Fritz Oeser published a so-called complete edition which removed all the recitatives. That version, however, provoked much controversy since it included a quantity of music which Bizet himself had rejected in his own edition of the vocal score.
This recording uses the most recent version of the score, published by Peters Edition. Based on the production Bizet premiered at the Opera-Comique, this version remains true to the composer’s original intentions.