Habanera

Album: Bizet: Carmen (1875)
  • songfacts ®
  • This aria from the famous opera Carmen by Georges Bizet is also referred to as "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle." ("Love is a rebellious bird"). Its score was adapted from the habanera "El Arreglito," then popular in cabarets. Bizet thought it to be a folk song, only to discover that it was a recently-composed ditty called "El Arreglito" by Basque composer Sebastian de Yradier, who had died only ten years earlier. The composer had to add a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.
  • The habanera is a genre of Cuban popular dance music of the 19th century, which was brought back to Spain by sailors, where it became popular for a while and was danced by all classes of society. This aria was so called because it was written in the rhythm of the Cuban dance.
  • Georges Bizet was born in Paris on Oct. 25, 1838. His father was a singing teacher, and his mother, a gifted pianist. Young Georges was a child prodigy and when only nine, he entered the great Paris Conservatory of Music and rapidly developed into a brilliant pianist.

    At the age of 19 Bizet won the Grand Prix de Rome, a government scholarship. He studied in Rome for three years before returning to Paris where he refused offers of a teaching position at the conservatory and a career as a concert pianist. Instead he devoted his efforts to composition. His works in this period include the opera The Pearl Fishers and the music for Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlesienne. However his efforts to achieve a reputation as an operatic composer were largely unsuccessful, and he never remained free of financial worries.
  • Carmen is an opéra comique about a passionate but self-destructive gypsy girl and her dramatic murder at the hands of her pathologically jealous soldier lover. Bizet based his work on Prosper Mérimée's short novel, Carmen, which had appeared in October 1845.
  • Despite its popularity today, Bizet's work bombed at its 1875 premiere at the Opéra Comique of Paris on March 3, 1875 as the audience found the risqué plot, with its robbers, gypsies and cigarette-girls, too hot to handle. The critics denounced it a failure, accusing it as being "immoral" and "superficial." "What is really wrong with this Carmen is that there's not a good tune in it," splattered one reporter. By the end of its first run of 48 performances, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance.

    Bizet was devastated and died of a heart attack three months later aged just 37. Five months after the composer's death, it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity. Since the 1880s it has been one of the world's most performed operas and a staple of the operatic repertoire. Tragically, Bizet never knew of the opera's eventual success.
  • Carmen has been the subject of several popular-music adaptations over the years. Many of you will be familiar with Carmen Jones, a 1943 Broadway musical adaptation with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
  • A Hollywood favorite, "Habanera" has featured on the soundtracks of numerous movies including, Up, Superman Returns, Bad News Bears, Bad Santa and Trainspotting.
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