Click here for a sample clip of the aria on Youtube (if the clip isn’t there, just search the site for ‘Carmen flower song’ and you should get many pages of hits).
The single English horn vocalizes the pensive melancholy elephant in the room as the strings tremolando lights the hypertensive atmosphere with shimmering sparks. Suspended collected heartbeats punctuate the pause in the strummed cellos. The mournful melody shifts its aural predestination lower and lower as Jose realizes that instead of falling into his arms and showering him love and affection, Carmen now regards him with contempt and indifference. His heart sinks in despair as his eyes drop to the shriveled up flower that had kept him going in prison. The flute and woodwinds share in his trickling drops of tear:
La fleur que tu m’avais jetée ….. The flower that you threw to me,
dans ma prison m’était restée,…. had stayed with me in prison.
flétrie et sèche, cette fleur …………. withered and dried, yet this flower
gardait toujours sa douce odeur; .. always kept its sweet odor;
Drifting into hopeful remembrance, Jose recovers himself as his thought modulates in short morale-searching climbs. His courage bolstered by the mirroring English horn as they work their way back to D flat major… With the flutes and harp materializing in thin air the vision he had enshrined of his beloved:
et pendant des heures entières,………… And in all the locked up hours,
sur mes yeux, fermant mes paupières,.. I’d close my eyes and remember,
de cette odeur je m’enivrais …………….. as its’ sweet scent enliven me,
et dans la nuit je te voyais!……………….. and I’d see you in the night!
The deep night of Jose’s remembrance lets up as his profusion turns inward along with the orchestra.
Je me prenais â te maudire, ………….. I cursed the hours that we met,
â te détester, â me dire:…………………wanting to hate or forget you,
pourquoi faut-il que le destin …………. why was it meant for destiny
l’ait mise lâ sur mon chemin?…………. to ever put us together?
Rage and passion are just two sides of the same coin. Convinced that he has suffered enough for her to reform herself into his vision, Jose battles the woodwinds’ Carmen-al attempts to break free from his engulfing lust as the orchestral strings and brass stir up in waves of punctuated delusion…
Puis je m’accusais de blasphème,….. Then I pled guilty of blasphemy,
et je ne sentais en moi-même,………. and if I could from any thought,
Je ne sentais qu’un seul désir,………. I thought only of one desire,
un seul désir, un seul espoir:………… one sole desire, one sole aspiration,
Te revoir, ô Carmen, oui, te revoir!… to see you, o Carmen, yes, you, again!
Back in D flat major again, and now with the sympathetic harp and cellos at his disposal, he attempts to draw her back, toning his profusion down to soft caresses as the strings reflect Carmen’s unresponsiveness.
Car tu n’avais eu qu’à paraître,…… ‘Cause you only had to appear,
qu’â jeter un regard sur moi,………. and cast just one look upon me,
pour t’emparer de tout mon être,…. to claim possession of my being.
O ma Carmen! ……………………………. O my Carmen!
Et j’étais une chose à toi!………….. And I am only one thing to you!
A soul-slaughtering silence… What is there left for a man to do?
Carmen, je t’aime!……………………Carmen, I love you!
With Jose too emotionally spent to breath another word the strings take up his original plea to its romantic end on the receptive tone of the English horn. One is left to wishfully project that a touching proclamation like this would melt even the iciest heart. But Carmen’s heart is set only on her own choices and not his.
If you want to know how the story ends, you’ll have to get a CD or DVD or, better yet, go to a live performance of this most musically catchy of opera at the local opera company near you. Then be sure to come back and tell us opera old timers what you think of it. What do you think of the resolutely independent gypsy? Is she really any worse than the man many count as her male counterpart, Don Juan (Don Giovanni)? After all, Carmen doesn’t go around bragging about her conquest, nor does she keep a catalog of those she went to bed with. Manipulative, unapologetically selfish, brazenly sexual, enterprising against prevailing culture…. Bizet’s Carmen is overtly all of that, and yet she still merit this sincere to-heck-with-male-dignity serenade from a man who started the opera as the only male on the stage who dared to look elsewhere when the vamp is around. It is absurd. It is irrational…. And it is as true to life as it gets!