French romantic period composer and outstanding pianist, Georges Bizet achieved few successes before his final work Carmen, which has become one the most frequently performed operas.
He entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 10 and graduated in 1857.
Encouraged by his composition teacher, Fromental Halévy, he entered for the prestigious Music Composition scholarship “Prix de Rome” in 1856 and was awarded Second Prize. Before he went to Rome, he was awarded joint first prize for “Le Docteur Miracle”, a one-act operetta.
On his return to Paris, he began many theatrical projects during the 1860s.
In 1863 Bizet composed his first important opera, “Les Pêcheurs de Perles”, then “La Jolie Fille de Perth” in July 1866 based on the novel V. Scott.
When artistic life in Paris resumed after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Bizet found wider opportunities for the performance of his works, such as Alphonse Daudet’s play “L’Arlésienne”.
His one-act Opera “Djamileh” opened at the Opéra-Comique in May 1872. Although withdrawn after 11 performances, it led to a further commission for a full-length Opera “Carmen”, for which Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy would provide the libretto.
Bizet began Carmen’s music in the summer of 1873, but the Opéra Comique’s management was concerned about the suitability of the risqué story, and work was suspended.
After resolving numerous issues, the First performance took place on 3 March 1875.
The public reaction was lukewarm and Bizet was soon convinced of its failure.
After the bright promise of his student days, Bizet faced years blighted by crises of self-confidence, illness and emotion upheaval. And he lived and died without the success and recognition his undoubted genius deserved.
Bizet tragically died on 3 June 1875 in Paris at the age of 37, too soon to hear public acclamation for his masterpiece Carmen.
The following October the opera received its debut in Vienna and its success was immediate.
The music world did not immediately acknowledge Bizet as a master and, apart from “Carmen” and “L’Arlesienne” suite, few of his works were performed in the years immediately following his death. However, the 20th century saw an increase of interest in his works.
An Italian version of “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” was performed at the Metropolitain Opera in New York on 13 November 1916, with Caruso in the leading role.