Ear Supply: Bizet This Weekend?

The ideal opera for opera virgins.

If you've never been to an opera before, lose your virginity to Carmen. It's on the long side (with intermissions, three and a half hours), but aside from that it's the ideal opera for newbies. You already know at least three of the tunes, probably more, and there's another dozen you can walk out humming. On one hand, it's got plenty of the standard opera ingredients you'll recognize in other works, like rousing choruses and a soprano/tenor/baritone love triangle. And a stabbing. On the other, composer Georges Bizet was a true innovator in writing an opera about characters from the underclass—Gypsies, factory workers, smugglers, soldiers—which affronted its first audiences and critics. And you thought Jon Stewart invented irony? Bizet's dénouement combines onstage tragedy with offstage triumph in a way that still wrenches. Best of all, it's one of those operas based on a theme so universal anyone can relate to it: being in love with someone who drives you nuts. Bizet died in 1875, exactly three months after Carmen's premiere, never knowing his daring masterpiece would conquer the world. Seattle Opera's production opens Saturday and runs through the 29th; they've already added a show due to demand, for a total of eight performances. Sung in French with English supertitles. (For another taste of Bizet, Philharmonia Northwest is playing his fleet and bubbly Symphony in C, written at age 17, on Sunday afternoon; see philharmonianw.org for details.) 

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