The full ti­tle is L’amour est un oiseau re­belle (“Love’s a rebel bird”), a big so­pra­no aria from Car­men, writ­ten by Ge­orges Bizet in 1875. That’s right, an opera! We’re in­to scary ter­ri­to­ry here, at risk of chas­ing away fol­low­ers of this quixot­ic New Year’s Res­o­lu­tion. But bear with me, it’s quite a song.

No, I’m not re­al­ly an opera fan. It has prob­lem­s: pre­ten­tious­ness, a lot of the mu­sic is lame, it en­cour­ages a hard vibrato-heavy voice that usu­al­ly re­pels me, the male singers bel­low, and they care way too much about the cos­tumes. But, I go see them some­times; Lau­ren and I sub­scribed to the Van­cou­ver Opera for a few years, and re­al­ly en­joyed it. First of al­l, those vo­cal styles sound way bet­ter un­am­pli­fied in a big space than they do on your ra­dio speak­er­s. And fac­t, on those re­main­ing oc­ca­sions when opera is per­formed com­plete­ly with­out any am­pli­fi­ca­tion help, it’s a rare ex­pe­ri­ence  —  music at a huge scale with no elec­tric­i­ty in­volved. The con­struc­tion of the sound is done in re­al time by a hun­dred per­form­er­s, pow­ered on­ly by tal­ent and a whole lot of prac­tice; no mix­ing board­!. No home stereo you’ve ev­er heard can come close to what live opera sounds like.

And the whole costumes-and-pearls thing is just part of opera be­ing big; it’s pre­sent­ed on a big stage with a big or­ches­tra and big cho­rus and big stars singing big songs. There’s noth­ing small about it, and once again, when you’re ac­tu­al­ly in the au­di­ence look­ing at them, the elab­o­rate cos­tumes and sets and so on make per­fect sense.

Rinat Shaham as Carmen
· · ·
Rinat Shaham as Carmen

Screen grabs from the Ri­nat Sha­ham video linked be­low.

That’s if the mu­sic is good. Of those I saw as a sub­scriber, at least a third were tune­less trash, an­oth­er bunch were OK, and then there were one or two that were so in­tense and beau­ti­ful they left me dazed for days. Al­so, I con­fess to hav­ing cried like a ba­by in a trag­ic part of La bohème.

Any­how, now that we’re past the lengthy apolo­get­ic pre­lude, let’s get to the song. Bear in mind that in its hey­day when the fa­mous op­eras were be­ing writ­ten, this was pop mu­sic. Your show got to run a long time and make you re­al mon­ey if it had songs that got the toes tappin’ and went through people’s minds while they were walk­ing to work. Most op­eras, if they’re lucky have one. Car­men has two, Ha­banera and the Tore­ador Song. If you go see Car­men, I guar­an­tee you’ll find one of ’em play­ing in your head while you brush your teeth the next morn­ing. De­spite that, the opera had a rough launch be­cause it was way too grit­ty and re­al­is­tic.

I picked the Ha­banera be­cause, along with hav­ing one of the catchi­est tunes ev­er writ­ten it gives the so­pra­no the most scope to max out the dra­ma and fun and sex; this is the joy­ful part of the sto­ry be­fore it turns all dark and death­ly. It’s worth not­ing that Car­men is a hero­ine for our times; sex-positive and strong. Then she gets mur­dered by a jeal­ous ass­hole. Which is al­so high­ly rel­e­vant in 2018.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · The Balt­sa/Car­reras/Kara­jan ver­sion on Spo­ti­fy, Ama­zon, and iTunes.

To be hon­est I ba­si­cal­ly nev­er lis­ten to opera record­ings, ex­cept for some­times I’ll tune in­to the NY Met show on Satur­days, and if some­thing re­al­ly juicy is play­ing I’ll roll down the win­dows and max out the vol­ume, just to cre­ate an at­mo­sphere on the street and sa­vor the pedestrians’ eye-rolls.

But, here are three live video per­for­mances; since the song is un­der five min­utes, you ought to sam­ple one or two and see if your mind gets ex­pand­ed.

Let’s award prizes! First, best act­ing and use of a cigar: Anne Sofie von Ot­ter. Nex­t, best mu­sic: Agnes Balt­sa, who shows you can take the vol­ume down while adding in­ten­si­ty. Fi­nal­ly, most sex: Ri­nat Sha­ham. I’m se­ri­ous, cov­er the children’s eyes or you’ll have to ex­plain what she’s do­ing with that rose and the gentleman’s trouser­s. The pic­tures above are out­takes from the video with Ms Sha­ham, with with whom I feel a re­la­tion­ship be­cause she had the role when I saw Car­men. She’s a fine so­pra­no, but I can’t find a record­ing that cap­tures what took my breath away there in the hal­l: Her low­er reg­is­ter, un­usu­al in a so­pra­no and just huge, you could feel the air in the hall shud­der­ing on her low notes. Oh, and did I men­tion sex? Yeah, verges on NSFW. It’s so great to watch a hu­man put out a thou­sand volts of sex and joy and a mil­lion volts of strength and charis­ma.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Lucian Pintilie (Jan 26 2018, at 11:03)

Habanera...nice choice. If you want to compare the NSFW interpretation of the aria, have a look at Elina Garanca's on the Met scene:


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January 26, 2018
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