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Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet (1839 - 1875) died three months after the opening of his opera Carmen on March 3, 1875, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Contrary to legend, he did not die of a broken heart over the supposed failure of the opera. It was, in fact, successful, having run 37 performances and concluded its run only because of the end of the season. Bizet could not have known, however, that it would become the world's favorite opera and would spawn numerous arrangements, adaptations, and free compositions based on its music. Some of these fall under the general title of Carmen Fantasy, which is the name of several distinct compositions by later composers.

Bizet himself drew an orchestral suite from the score, Carmen Suite No. 1, while his friend, American composer Ernest Guiraud, arranged Carmen Suite No. 2. One of the first major treatments of the opera as a display vehicle for soloists was penned by Pablo de Sarasate (1844 - 1908). Sarasate, the leading violinist in Paris, was known for his lyrical performances of the major masterpieces, but wrote fiery solo works out of his own Spanish and Gypsy heritage. The Fantaisie de Concerto, Op. 25, "Carmen-Fantasy," dating from 1883, is one of the favorite Romantic violin showpieces.

Staying with the string family, for an oddity, there is a Carmen Fantasy for double bass and symphony orchestra by Stuart Sankey that has been recorded by Gary Karr.

Early in the life of the opera, Vienna's leading light-music orchestra, the Johann Strauss Orchestra, quickly produced its own dance arrangement of themes from the opera in the Carmen-Quadrille, Op. 134, by Eduard Strauss. Flutists obtained their own Carmen fantasy in 1900, when François Borne wrote his Fantaisie Brillante on Georges Bizet's Carmen.

In the 1920s, two composers known for creating large-scale piano works turned their hands to Bizet's themes. The lesser-known of these works was by the London composer Kaikhosru Sorabji, who wrote a Pastiche-Habañero From Bizet's Carmen in 1922. A more worthy piece was included by Ferruccio Busoni as one of his short but difficult sonatinas for piano. The familiar themes from the opera have made the Sonatina No. 6, "Fantasie da camera sur Carmen," K. 284 (1920) the most popular of the sonatinas.

Carmen has been arranged as an orchestral movement by Morton Gould, but the most audacious orchestral treatment of the opera is by the Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932). Written for his wife, the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, Maya Plisetskaya, the Carmen Ballet is inventively scored for strings and percussion alone; it is this version of the music that is most commonly used by figure skaters. Meanwhile, another fine Carmen Fantasy, this time for violin and orchestra, had been written by Hollywood-based composer Franz Waxman.

These are only a few of the most famous Carmen works. Arrangements of selections from the opera's top numbers are numerous, including arrangements for any solo instrument imaginable and for several chamber groupings.