'Habanera' and 'Toreador Song' from 'Carmen' by Georges Bizet
Bizet came from a very musical family – his father was a composer and his mother was a pianist – and his own musical talents were obvious from an early age. In fact, he was such a talented child that he was allowed to study at the Paris Conservatoire (music college) when he was just nine years old! Bizet's work remained individual throughout his career - he went on to write operas, symphonies and other orchestral pieces.
Bizet finished his most famous and most popular piece of work, the opera 'Carmen', in 1874. The 'Habanera' from Act I and the 'Toreador Song' from Act II of 'Carmen' are now two of the best known of all operatic arias. That's a pretty big achievement for an opera that Bizet originally predicted would be "a definite and hopeless flop". As it turned out, he couldn't have been more wrong. The bold drama of the storyline and punchiness of Bizet's melodies have made it a lasting favourite with audiences. Its powerful story of love, betrayal and revenge continues to capture imaginations the world over, almost 150 years on.
Listen out for: Its Spanish-sounding tunes. This is particularly impressive when you remember that Bizet was French!
Watch the introduction film at the top of the page then starting exploring the music:
Watch the full performances
About the composer
BORN: 1838 / DIED: 1875 / NATIONALITY: French
Bizet was a French composer and pianist who, after studying at the Paris Conservatoire, found it difficult to be taken seriously as an opera composer. His early works were mostly ignored and he made money by arranging music for other, lesser composers. In 1875, obsessed by all things Spanish, he wrote 'Carmen', a light opera with a serious ending about a beautiful girl who works in a factory. Initially the piece was a flop - critics complained that it didn't have enough melody in it and Bizet died three months later thinking himself a failure. He didn't live to see 'Carmen' gradually grow into a worldwide phenomenon. It is now one of the most popular of all operas and exists in many versions. It is littered with famous, hummable tunes.