Did you know Bizet had never actually been to Spain when he wrote “Carmen”? Yet, his opera has become the touchstone interpretation of life in Seville. Speaking of life in Seville, let's hash out the plot of "Carmen."
The story goes like so: The year is about 1830. The plot deals with the unbridled love and jealousy of Don José, who gets very distracted from his soldier duties, not to mention his existing love, Micaëla, by the gypsy* Carmen, who works at the local tobacco factory makes cigars.
The male lead, Don José, had trained to be a priest. During his teenage years, he got into a rather heated tussle over a sports game and killed a man. To avoid prison, he fled his country and enlisted in the military. Don Jose’s job as corporal of the dragoons is to oversee and confirm that the factory women are not stealing tobacco. Don José spots Carmen on a break and she shameless flirts with him. Things get rather complicated when Carmen, though making flagrant moves on Don José as a tease, makes it emphatically clear that she is enamored with someone else, a bull-fighter named Escamillo. As the plot goes on, Don José is persuaded to join Carmen’s cronies the smugglers, but as with all things opera, gets afflicted with outrageous jealousy when he learns about Escamillo.
In the final act of the program, Escamillo enters the bullfighting arena with Carmen. Don José, who was waiting for Carmen to appear, and definitely not about to let her live happily ever after with Escamillo, stabs her to death just outside the bullring.
Only in opera can you witness this type of relentless display of love, affection, rage and fury in one evening! But when it’s put to wonderful music, then it’s lifted to art!
*The term "gypsy" is the term used to describe the free-spirit nomadic folks who spread over Europe, North and South Americas, typically of Romani descent. PLA recognizes it is considered a perjorative by some nowadays and is using the term only to be in sync with how opera described the character of Carmen from its point of story origination.
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