Clémentine Margaine closes Bizet’s French opera “Carmen” at the Met

Carmen is Bizet’s French opera about a fiery Romani woman whose passion knows no boundaries.

Carmen premiered in 1875 at Opéra Comique in Paris. Henri Meilhac, also known for Manon,  wrote the French libretto with Ludovic Halévy. It is based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée.

The opera is set in Seville, Spain, the capital of Spain’s southern Andalusia region, the heartland of Spanish Romani culture. Spanish colonial trade was run out of the port city of Cadiz, so Andalusian culture was the Spanish culture that came to the Americas in colonial times.

Bizet’s music is so well known that in some ways it defines outsider perspectives of Spanish culture with castanets, Romani, bullfighters and smart uniforms. Carmen’s Habanera in Act 1 and the tenor’s Toreador song (Bullfighter’s song) are the most famous pieces.

The Habanera is a reference to Havana, Cuba. The Habanera was the first international dance. What began as the English country dance became the French contradance (country dance with a French accent), and in Cuba was called the Habanera (the Havana dance, or the way they dance in Cuba).

The Habanera is the root of social dancing in the Americas. It is the European part of Caribbean salsa and Argentine tango. The other part is African. Here we have a French composer using the Habanera as a reference for Spanish culture that is globally assumed to just be Spanish. Latin is the great mix of humanity.

Carmen originally shocked audiences with its raw portrayal of common people, lust and murder onstage. Maybe that is why it is so popular. Looking back in time, Carmen is an important transitional work from opéra comique to the realism of Italian opera verismo.

Carmen Roles

  • Micaëla (soprano), a village girl
  • Carmen (mezzo-soprano), a Romani woman
  • Don José (tenor), a Spanish soldier
  • Escamillo (bass-baritone), toreador (bullfighter)

Carmen is one of the iconic “fallen” women in theater. But today one can’t help but see Carmen in a different light. She’s a woman enjoying herself and getting what she wants from more powerful men. That would make her a New Yorker for sure. Regardless of how you read Carmen, it is one of the great operas.

Related Productions

Ballet Hispanico’s full-length contemporary dance CARMEN.maquia is based on Bizet’s Carmen.

Compañia Irene Rodríguez, who performs for the Cuba Festival at the Joyce Theater, provides an example of Spanish culture in Cuba that like the Habanera went back to Spain as Rumba Flamenco.

Carmen 2018-19

This is Sir Richard Eyre’s 2009 production. Rob Howell designed the set and costumes. Peter Mumford designed the lighting. Renowned ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon did the choreography.

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2018-19 Performances

The Met performs Carmen fourteen times between October 30, 2018 and February 8, 2019.

Fall Cast 2018

French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine is back as opera’s ultimate seductress with Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee as Don José and Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu as Micaëla. Israeli Omer Meir Wellber conducts.

October 30, Tuesday at 7:30pm
November 3, Saturday at 1pm

November 6, Tuesday at 7:30pm
November 10, Saturday at 8pm

November 15, Thursday at 7:30pm

Winter Cast 2019

French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine is back as opera’s ultimate seductress with French tenor Roberto Alagna as Don José and Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak as Micaëla. Frenchman Louis Langrée conducts.

January 9, Wednesday at 8pm
January 12, Saturday at 8:30pm

January 17, Thursday at 7:30pm

January 21, Monday at 7:30pm
January 26, Saturday at 1pm

January 29, Tuesday at 7:30pm
February 2, Saturday at 1pm

February 5, Tuesday at 7:30pm
February 8, Friday at 7:30pm

Carmen 2018 Tickets

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Carmen 2017

French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine stars in the title role. Argentine tenor Marcelo Álvarez is Don José. Italian soprano Maria Agresta is Micaëla. Asher Fisch is the main conductor.

Thursday, January 19 at 7:30pm
Monday, January 23 at 7:30pm
Friday, January 27 at 7:30pm, Derrick Inouye conducts
Tuesday, January 31 at 7:30pm
Friday, February 3 at 8pm, Janai Brugger is Micaëla
Tuesday, February 7 at 7:30pm
Saturday, February 11 at 1pm
Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30pm, Louis Langrée conducts
Saturday, February 18 at 8pm, Louis Langrée conducts

Clémentine Margaine rehearses the Habanera (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”) from Act I in 2017

Marcelo Álvarez as Don José in 2017 by Beatriz Schiller, courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera.

Carmen Synopsis

The story is set in Seville in southern Spain. Seville is the capital of Andalusia, the heartland of Spanish gypsy culture.

Act 1

Soldiers are standing guard near a cigarette factory. Micaëla, a peasant girl, is looking for her sweetheart, the soldier Don José. During a break, men stop to watch the female workers. The Gypsy Carmen flirts with the men and throws a flower to Don José. He picks up the flower, but hides it when Micaëla returns. Carmen fights with another woman so Lieutenant Zuniga sends Don José to get her. When he takes her away to prison, Carmen seduces Don José and he lets her escape. Don José is arrested.

Act II

Carmen and friends Frasquita and Mercédès are entertaining guests at a tavern. Lieutenant Zuniga informs Carmen that Don José has been released. The bullfighter Escamillo flirts with Carmen and she dances for him.

Don José arrives and Carmen tells him she danced for the Lieutenant. She dances for Don José who shows her the flower he kept to prove his love. Carmen asks Don José to run away with her to the mountains, but he refuses. The Lieutenant enters and Don José fights him. Now Don José has to flee to the mountains.


In the mountains, Carmen tells Don José that she no longer cares for him and he should go back to his mother. Frasquita and Mercédès play the Tarot cards which show death for Carmen and Don José.

Micaëla comes to talk with Don José. She hides when he fires a shot in the darkness. The bullfighter Escamillo has come looking for Carmen. The men fight. Then Escamillo invites everyone to his next bullfight and leaves. Micaëla asks Don José to come home. He agrees but tells Carmen he will see her again.

Act IV

Carmen arrives at the Seville bull ring with Escamillo. She waits outside as the crowds enter. Don José arrives and begs her to love him. She refuses, throws his ring at him, and Don José murders her.

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