Work: Carmen: Suite no 1
About This Work
A failure at its premiere, Bizet's Carmen began to find its enormous success only a few months later-and a few months after its composer's death. The opera's acclaim is mirrored by the popularity of the first orchestral suite drawn from it-like a
second suite-by Ernest Guiraud, who also provided sung recitatives for the opera after Bizet's death.
The first suite consists almost entirely of preludes and entr'actes. The opening movement is called "Prélude-Aragonaise," and consists of two pieces widely separated in the opera. First is the prelude proper (which originally followed the actual overture, which is relegated to the suite's finale). It's a tense, ominous piece with tremolo strings providing the underpinning for the grim, tragic motto associated with Carmen's premonitions of death and her murder itself. The Aragonaise, which here follows without a break, is a lively Spanish dance designed to precede the opera's fourth act. It's full of colorful woodwind writing over sharply accented, percussion-splashed rhythms.
The Intermezzo, originally the prelude to Act 3, is an unassuming nocturne initially for flute over harp arpeggios. The melody passes through various sections of the orchestra, generally led by a woodwind, culminating in a lush string treatment that ebbs away into fragments played by individual winds.
The "Séguedille" is the only movement of this suite that began as an aria. In this case, Carmen's seductive song about rendez-vousing with Don Jose at a notorious tavern if he will release her from arrest uses the waltz-like Spanish seguidilla rhythm and allots the melody to several instruments in turn, mostly woodwinds but at one point the trumpet.
"Les dragons d'Alcala" originally came just before Act 2. It's a little march, later sung by Don Jose, concerning his military platoon. In this version the lighthearted air is introduced by the bassoons, and, as usual, distributed among the woodwinds for its few repetitions. Finally comes "Les Toréadors," the opera's overture. This is also the festive, quick march that accompanies the procession to the bullring in the final act. In the middle is a smooth string version of the popular "Toreador Song," heard more fully in the second suite.
-- James Reel, All Music Guide
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