The Creation of the Myth about the Failure of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Following the Materials of the French Press of the Years 1875–1883

Anna V. Bulycheva, Elena A. Arutyunova


The stage fate of Georges Bizet’s last opera Carmen has become surrounded by legends for a long time. For a long period of time in musicology in Russia and in other countries it was considered that the composition was received rather coldly by the critics, whereas the world premiere, which took place on March 3, 1875 resulted in a failure. An analysis of the articles published in the periodicals of 1875 reveals the erroneousness of this fact: the reviews of the first production of Carmen were almost unanimously positive, and not a single harshly negative review was published. In order to understand the reason for the origin of the myth about the opera’s failure, it is worth examining the critical articles published from the moment of its first production up to the revival of Carmen at the Opéra-comique in 1883.

The nineteenth century became a time of flourishing of the French press. In Paris alone there were over a hundred newspapers and illustrated magazines, around sixty of which responded to the premiere of Carmen. Among the authors of the reviews there were both significant musicologists, composers and literati, as well as journalists whose names have remained unknown. Virtually every critical article examines important questions of the libretto, the score, the performance and the formatting. It follows from the materials of the press that after the first production the main criticism was expressed in regard to the chosen plotline and the libretto, while the music received quite favorable estimation. After Bizet’s death in June 1875, the opera remained under the steadfast attention of the public, continued to receive exuberant reviews and was withdrawn from the repertoire of the Opéra-comique after two successful seasons due to the requirement of renewing the repertoire. In 1883 Carmen returned to the Paris scene as a masterpiece acknowledged throughout the world, and it was particularly at the moment of the opera’s revival the myth began to form of the failure of its premiere. This legend, created by the directorate of the Opéra-comique for the sake of attracting the audiences’ attention, was quickly disseminated and fixated itself into the consciousness of the public and the critics. Not least important was the role played in its popularization by the effect of substitution of reminiscences and the image formed around Bizet of a romantic artist and an unrecognized genius, which predominated in the 19th century.

Keywords: Bizet, Carmen, French press, false memories, Opéra-Сomique

For citation: Bulycheva A. V., Arutyunova E. A. The Creation of the Myth about the Failure of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Following the Materials of the French Press of the Years 1875–1883 [Electronic source]. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2023, no. 3, pp. 40―62. (In Russ.) DOI: 10.56620/2587-9731-2023-3-040-062


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Copyright (c) 2023 Anna V. Bulycheva; Elena A. Arutyunova

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