Georges Bizet

Born - Oct 25, 1838   |   Died - Jun 3, 1875   |   Genres - Music, Theater, Musical

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

Bizet's music has appeared in 85 feature films between the years 1913 and 2000. As may be expected, the overwhelming majority employ excerpts from or are full productions of the composer's most successful opera, Carmen (1875). This innovative work offers many of Bizet's most exquisite melodies with rich, atmospheric orchestrations highlighting a plot, based on Prosper Mérimée's novel, filled with drama, conventional comedy, romance, and stark realisms that were shocking at the time: Carmen's blatant sexuality, her risqué discarding of men like so many picked flowers, the cigar factory women who smoke and fight, and Carmen's being stabbed to death by Don José in full view of the audience. Nevertheless, the opera became very popular and admired by other composers. Nietzsche declared that Carmen was "the perfect antidote to Wagnerian neurosis."

Although silent films were hardly ever that, instead often filled with sound effects, live voices, and musicians, the interesting problem of how to transfer operatic materials to silent film was solved in De Mille's Carmen (1915) starring diva Geraldine Farrar. Although she never sings in the film, Farrar later incorporated the sexuality and cat fighting into her Metropolitan Opera role. Hugo Riesenfeld, one of the founders of film music accompaniment, arranged the film score from Bizet's original opera. He has several arias and orchestral excerpts repeat throughout the film in a leitmotif manner, gives originally vocal melodies to various solo instruments, and generally treats the opera score as atmosphere for the movie which is not a staging of the opera. A soprano and tenor, seated with the pit orchestra, occasionally sing excerpts from a few arias and duets, but are treated as other instruments. Several scenes from the opera are truncated and their original sequence is re-ordered; for example, De Mille chose to begin the film with a suspense-filled purple-tinted night shot of smugglers at work near the coast of Seville, which in the opera does not occur until Act III.

In Cedric Klapisch's 58-second contribution to Lumière et compagnie (1995), a collection of brief films shot on the first motion picture camera, the Lumière Cinematograph, a man and a woman approach from opposite sides of the screen against a white-draped background to the accompaniment of Carmen's famous aria in habañera rhythm, "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" ("Love Is a Rebellious Bird"), its melody borrowed from Iradier. The couple rehearse an embrace. The music stops immediately as the couple briskly disengage and make gestures to the unseen director that they wish to try the moves again, and walk offscreen. Once more, the couple attempt a new approach. They stop again, make some confirming gestures, walk offscreen. On the third and final take, they enter the scene walking at a much slower and more sensual pace, and this time the embrace is fully passionate and seems natural and unrehearsed, although as viewers to the preparatory moves, the audience may experience mixed emotions because of this aesthetic realism.

The fabulous Dorothy Dandridge is a civilian parachute-maker who falls for army man Joe (Harry Belafonte) in the updated version of Bizet's opera in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1954), which excerpts the opera music and adds modern lyrics.

Bizet's La Jolie fille de Perth had a television realization in 1998; The Pearl Fishers has been heard in The Man Who Cried (2000), Little Women (1994), and Gallipoli (1981); and L'Arlésienne in The Eye of Vichy (1993), Manon of the Spring (1953), and L'Arlésienne (1942). Unfortunately, no biopics of the composer have been created.