“L’Amour est un oiseau rebelle,” popularly known as the Habañera, is the entrance aria sung by the titular character in French composer George Bizet’s Carmen. The opera was first performed in Paris in 1875 to mixed reviews. Bizet was known for frequently rewriting the work leading up to the premiere. He died unexpectedly after the 33rd performance, after which many different modifications were made. To this day there is no definitive version Bizet’s original score.
Carmen’s libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée. However, the lyrics of the Habañera were written by Bizet himself. In fact, he inadvertently plagiarized the music of the Spanish habañera “El Arreglito ou la Promesse de mariage” of 1863 by Sebastián Iradier, thinking it was a folk tune. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most recognizable arias in the history of opera, and a right of passage for many mezzo-sopranos.
To play a character like Carmen is to chase a moving target. Carmen is by her nature mysterious yet aggressive, passionate yet aloof, stubborn yet fickle. She represents the kind of magical feminine ideal that men want to have, and women want to be. In this scene, Carmen and the other “cigarette girls” emerge from the factory for their break, surrounded by male soldiers who ogle them. Cool and unfazed, Carmen basks in the attention and flirts with the one soldier who pays no mind to her—José. The lyrics speak of the paradox of love: the more we want it or try to control it, the more it flies away; the less we pursue love or even care about it, the more it grows toward us. Though these words prove to be a tragic foreshadowing of the opera’s final act, Carmen’s Habańera is essentially a lesson in seduction from a sexy, seasoned master.
Let me know how I did 😉 Of course, I didn’t have a chorus behind me to sing the back-up vocals, but you get the idea!
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