“O ma Carmen”

Bizet’s Fateful Gypsy in Portrayals from 1875 to the Present


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About the Book

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” (What is it?) mezzo-soprano Célestine Galli-Marié asked when offered the title role in the 1875 premier of Bizet’s new opera, Carmen. She was only the first in a long line of performers to ask. In the 140+ years since, each singer has crafted her own portrayal of the inscrutable Gypsy. The famous soprano Geraldine Farrar wrote: “Each one of us probably sees something that the others have not seen—or thinks she does—and that ‘something’ is her individual Carmen.” This book explores the history of operatic portrayals of Bizet’s elusive enchantress, tracing the development of vocal and dramatic interpretations from generation to generation around the globe.

About the Author(s)

Victoria Etnier Villamil performed as a soprano in opera, concert and recital throughout the United States and Europe for more than two decades, and is the author of a book on American art song and one on the American classical singer. She lives in Philadelphia.

Bibliographic Details

Victoria Etnier Villamil

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: 43 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6324-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2924-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1. “What Is It?” 9
2. Breaking Away 21
3. North, South, East, West 31
4. Home Again 41
5. Emma Calvé and the New Realism 56
6. More Than the Singing 66
7. Farrar, Film and Psychology 78
8. In the Time of Dictators 87
9. American Idyll 102
10. Sea Change 116
11. 100 and Counting 133
12. Game Change 148
Appendix A. Alphabetical Listing of Singers Mentioned in the Text 165
Appendix B. Chronology of Premieres and Significant Performances 172
Appendix C. Discography 177
Appendix D. Videography 185
Chapter Notes 188
Bibliography 201
Index 209

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “An enormous amount of factual information…an unusual and attractive book that anyone interested in Carmen and her interpreters will find thought-provoking and a pleasure to read”—The Record
  • “Villamil’s ‘Carmen journey’ is a fascinating and a revealing one. The book is an easy and interesting read and on many an occasion I discovered several patches of info totally new to me…research[ed] thoroughly…anyone with a history of singing, performance practice of the opera itself will find great pleasure in Villamil’s work…recommended”—Opera Nostalgia
  • “A fascinating and easy-to-read journey through the various productions and interpretations of the role…revealing and just a smidgen gossipy…an extraordinary amount of research…a good read for connoisseurs of opera singers…recommended”—FanFare
  • “Based on the idea that each singer brings her own vision to the role of Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name, Villamil shows how their portrayals evolved and changed—musically, stylistically, vocally, dramatically, and above all interpretively—from generation to generation and country to country. She also examines how historic events, cultural drifts, and societal upheavals as well as changing vocal styles and performance practices impacted their portrayals.  But ultimately, she says, it is the individual singers athat matter:  their personalities, temperaments, physical and vocal makeups, minds and sensibilities, and above all their personal connection with the Gypsy Carmen.”—ProtoView
  • “What a wonderful book. [Villamil] is passionate about her subject and this quality pervades every word she has written. I have loved the journey…and closed the book wishing that I could see her Carmen!”—Frederica von Stade, world-renowned and six-time Grammy nominated American mezzo-soprano