Bizet, Georges


Georges Bizet was born on October 25, 1838 in Paris. His father was a teacher of singing, and his mother was fond of playing the piano. By the age of ten, due to the skills acquired in the family together with his native abilities, the boy’s musical talent was clearly manifested – he played the piano perfectly and knew the solfeggio as well. At the age of 10, Georges entered the class of the outstanding pianist, Professor Antoine-François Marmontel in the Paris Conservatoire. His other teachers were the most prominent opera composers - Fromental-Élie Halévy and Charles François Gounod. The young musician was the teachers’ pet. He was annually awarded with the incentive prizes in all disciplines. Bizet graduated from the Conservatory in 1857 with the highest honors, receiving the Rome Prize for the cantata “Clovis and Clotilda”. Laureate diploma allowed spending three years in Rome. The same year, Bizet took part in the competition announced by Jacques Offenbach and, together with Charles Lecocq, shared the first prize for the opérette “Le docteur Miracle” (Doctor Miracle). Bizet’s Conservatory teachers predicted a brilliant future for him. They were right, having made a mistake in terms - the composer gained true recognition only posthumously.

In Italy, Bizet received fresh impressions. Everything there attracted the attention of a sensitive musician. Nevertheless, Georges was worried about the life of the Italian people. The oppressed people did not know the word Freedom in the fragmented country. Therefore, Bizet sided with the rebels during the new wave of the national liberation movement of 1859. Not fully understanding all political nuances, he felt that Italy should be united, and the truth was with those that were fighting for this idea. In Rome, Bizet worked a lot, trying to create music at the same time beautiful and accessible to understanding. He wrote the opéra comique (opera buffa) “Don Procopio", symphonic and choral pieces, including the ode-symphony “Vasco da Gama”.

In 1860, Bizet returned to his motherland. In mid-course, he learned of his mother’s serious illness. She died in 1861. This caused the composer’s deep emotional trauma. After returning to Paris, Bizet had to work hard, sometimes 15-16 hours a day, combining the grunt work with composing and creative pursuits. He gave lessons, arranged someone else's compositions for different musical instruments, dealt with proofreading.

He received an order for creation of a one-act opéra comique. When it was ready, he did not dare to submit it to the theater - the quality of the composition did not satisfy him. Continual trivial orders, often vulgar, but providing the composer with bread, tore him from operas’ creation.

As a result, the final version of the work did not meet the composer’s requirements for himself. Soon Bizet received new order to write a full-sized opera based on the dramatic plot that interested him. In 1863, he created his first significant opera – “The Pearl Seekers”. The audience saw the inspirational love scenes, racy choral pieces, and dances of pearl divers in this opera. The success of the opera was bright, but fleeting; fresh musical interpretation and application of new means of musical expression did not arouse the long-term interest of the public.

The next Bizet’s work was the opera “Ivan the Terrible” based on the Russian historical plot. The libretto’s complexity, the author’s unfamiliarity with the Russian music and history - all this contributed to the failure of the opera; the work did not bring the composer much success.

In 1866, Bizet wrote “The Fair Maid of Perth” opera on the plot of Walter Scott. The life of ordinary people, vivid images, lively feelings and realistic characters – all was revealed in the composer’s work. He wanted to show the pictures of picturesque folk life in his music. Bizet found new techniques in operatic art, creating poetic folk scenes, reflecting the depth of the common people feelings, subtly interpreting love drama. The opera was staged in 1867, but failed to subdue the public.

The creative search captured Bizet. The composer wanted his works to be different from those that were staged in Paris. In serious operas, the heroes who performed feats and sacrificed themselves were unnatural and insincere; Bizet did not believe them. In opéras comique there was no real fun and excitement. Bizet followed the path laid out by his mentor and friend Charles Gounod, working in the tradition of the French lyric opera. He sought to draw inspiration from real human feelings, from the truth of life, and wanted to show all the ups and downs of life without embellishment.

Bizet married Geneviève Halévy, the daughter of his teacher, in 1869. The fortuneless young man with uncompromising views scared the family of Geneviève. However, in spite of everything, the marriage was very happy.

In 1870, the war with Prussia began. The events unfolded at an incredible speed — the French army suffered a defeat, months-long siege of Paris followed it. At the beginning of the war, Bizet joined the National Guard. His war experience was reflected in the dramatic overture of 1874 “Motherland” and in the unfinished opera “Don Rodrigo” of 1873.

In 1871, Georges Bizet worked on the one-act opera “Djamileh”, commissioned by the Theater of the Opéra Comique. The work was to be performed while the public was arriving and housed. It preceded the opéra comique “La fille du régiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) by Gaetano Donizetti. Nevertheless, the composer worked with great dedication, despite these conditions. The plot was based on Alfred de Musset’s story “Namouna", the author of the libretto was Louis Gallet. The task set for Bizet was solved with the greatest skill; the composer used Arab folk musical motifs to enrich the musical language. The plot described the sincere love of a poor slave, who by her devotion returned the master’s heart.

Staged in May 1872, “Djamileh” did not have much success; however, it attracted the critics’ attention, who noticed a new stage of operatic art development in it.

After opera “Djamileh” was staged, the composer was asked to create music for the dramatic poem of Alphonse Daudet “L'Arlésienne”. Bizet finally found the sought-for plot and a peculiar hero in this opera. A young man of common origin overwhelmed by deep feelings was the central figure of the in the folk realistic drama. Frederic, who fell in love with the beautiful woman from the city of Arles, wanted to marry her. The agreement was already celebrated. However, the young man’s family learned that previously the bride was the mistress of another man and interfered with the marriage. The main character, unable to forget L'Arlesienne, laid hands on oneself, jumping out of the window. “L'Arlesienne” was staged in the Vaudeville Theater on October 1, 1872. The premiere was practically unnoticed. The bourgeois audience was not interested in the works where main characters were of common origin. However, in “L'Arlesienne”, Bizet demonstrated his conception that opera, the same as drama, should narrate about ordinary people whose behavior is sincere, and feelings are deep. The composer created an orchestral suite uniting the most successful pieces. Ernest Guiraud comprised the second suite after the death of Bizet.

The opera "Carmen" created in 1875 was the composer’s last work. The customer was Opéra Comique Theater. The opera was based on the story by the French writer Prosper Mérimée. Two famous French playwrights, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, wrote the libretto. While recasting the literary writing to the libretto, the authors made some changes and additions - new characters were introduced (Escamillo and Michaela), as well as folk scenes were added. The characters in the opera by Bizet are sensitive people; each one is a unique person with specific character.

The premiere of the opera that took place on March 3, 1875, failed spectacularly and aroused sharp criticism from the press. The public and reviewers considered the opera "immoral", and it was not staged the next season. A year after the premiere, "Carmen" was performed on the best European stages. Ernest Guiraud edited the opera by introducing a series of dances from other works by Bizet and replaced the conversational scenes with patters. Nevertheless, the composer himself did not see the triumph.

Stoically, Bizet suffered the “Carmen” failure. He was eager to break into the realization of new ideas, but his health was broken - the musician was seriously ill.

Georges Bizet died on June 3, 1875, three months after the premiere show of “Carmen”, at the age of 36 in Bougival, near Paris.