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Georges Bizet   (1838-1875)

Biography of Bizet

The composer of the classic opera "Carmen" was born in 1838 near Paris. Bizet's first teacher was his father, a noted voice teacher and pianist. Later he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where one of his instructors was Gounod. At 19, Bizet won the prestigious Prix de Rome.

Bizet's first opera, "La Maison du Docteur," was written when he was only 14. He wrote "Le Docteur Miracle" in 1857, winning the Prix de Rome. This piece was later performed at the Bouffes-Parisiens. Bizet used the prize money from the award to subsidize his stay in Paris. From 1858 to 1860, Bizet started several operas, but managed to only finish one, "Don Procopio." This opera, written in 1859, was not put on stage until 1906. Lacking commercial success, Bizet made his living from teaching the piano, and as a accompanist for other people's work.

Yet, he still wrote. The 1863 opera, "Les PÍcheurs de Perles," takes place in the Orient, and probably contains material from his earlier, unfinished operas. The opera did not meet with either commercial or critical success. Hector Berlioz, who praised the opera, was one notable exception. Nevertheless, Bizet received a commission for another work, the five-act "Ivan IV" in 1865. Sadly, production on this opera had to be abandoned after many delays and problems. "Ivan IV" had to wait until 1946 before being received on stage.

Other operas followed, by none of them were commercial or critical successes. The production of "La Jolie Fille de Perth" was met with better reviews, but not commercial acclaim. The same was true of "Djamileh," written in 1871.

Despite his failures, Bizet was asked to write an opera based on Merimee's "Carmen." Controversy surrounded the piece because of its subject matter. Bizet refused to water-down the material, despite the fear that the opera would alienate the public. The public was alienated. The opera closed after only 48 performances. Yet, a year after Bizet's death, the piece was revived with a series of triumphant performances in Vienna. "Carmen" is recognized as Bizet's masterpiece, and a classic.

Bizet died in 1875 at the age of 42.