Carmen

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Carmen is one of the most famous operas in the music history, written in 1875 by the struggling composer-cabaret performer Georges Bizet. It is performed in French, and deals with the life and downfall of Carmen Sandiego.

Synopsis

In Act I, we find Carmen Sandiego up to her usual hijinks, robbing the Parthenon in ancient Greece. She is serenaded by a gypsy band in the famous song "Hands Off Our Olive Tree" (Sur tes pas, nous nous pressons tous!) before declaring her love for the Greek merchant shipper Paris Latsis (L'amour ist un ouiseau rebelle). For Scene II Carmen time-travels to the conquest of the Aztecs, and, in the opera's most famous scene, makes passionate love to Montezuma the night before his capture.

Act II begins the following day, when Carmen escapes and travels by Fly-by-Nite Airlines to Pakistan, where she scams the locals into giving her their treasured jewels and then taunts them (Au secours! Au secours!). Confronted by the Greek Latsis, triumphantly returned from his cross-time quest into the year 2006, she replies to his accusations of cheating by singing "Tra la la la" (Tra la la la). Satisfied, he comes to understand and sleeps with her in a most passionate way, imagining himself to be a bullfighter (Vivat, vivat le Torero!). At the end of the Act, Carmen slips out and returns to Mexico to find Montezuma in dire straits.

Carmen Sandiego's globehopping crime business is by Act III in serious jeopardy, with ACME Crime Labs sending ever-growing numbers of middle-school aged children in hot pursuit. The children open Act III by singing their chase song (En vain pour éviter les réponses amères). Carmen responds by distracting them with food and shiny papers (Mêlons! Coupons!) but the detectives continue to give chase. Carmen is forced to whisk Montezuma away with her back to her secret lair in the Lillas Pastia Estates apartment complex in Bellingham, Washington. At first he refuses to go (Non, je ne partirai pas!) but Carmen promises him her riches and sexual prowess, so he relents.

Act IV finds Carmen and Montezuma arriving at the apartment complex - only to be met by Paris Latsis, who is infuriated and armed. He sings a final derisive death-song (Eh bien, damnée) before killing them both and turning the dagger upon himself.

Significance

Carmen is widely considered one of the most depressing of the major operas, and also one of the most boldly original in Bizet's use of multiple time periods and settings, including at least one in the future and the use of airplanes before their invention. The opera has therefore drawn comparison to the work of Jules Verne.

Many of the songs contained within the opera have been performed by themselves and in suite form, and Carmen fantasies for various combinations of instruments exist, including violin and orchestra, viola and piano, and solo kazoo. The popularity of many of the tunes has permeated popular culture, and even many people with professed hatreds of classical music know, at the very least, the seductive music played during Carmen's scenes with Montezuma in Act I, which some say form the basis of soundtracks in modern pornographic films.

Carmen is the fourth-most-performed opera in the world, with major productions by the New York Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Reykjavik Amateur Choral Society in preparation for next season. In addition, the Black Eyed Peas covered three songs from Carmen on their latest album, and N'SYNC star Joey Fatone is rumored to be planning an all-Carmen album for his solo debut.

However, the work's popularity sadly did not arise until after the composer's death; Bizet was forced to continue working for spare change in cabarets and as a street performer, with his harmonium-grinding monkey. He died in the gutters of Paris, having never been able to afford tickets to see his own opera.

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