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Carmen is a French opéra comique[1] in four acts by Georges Bizet (1838-1875)[2].

The original text

Based on the novella Carmen[3] (1845) by Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)[4], with a libretto by Henri Meilhac (1830-1897)[5] and Ludovic Halévy (1834-1908)[6], it tells Don José, who is seduced by the fiery gypsy Carmen and thus abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties. When he loses Carmen's love to the glamorous torero Escamillo, the healous José kills her.

Carmen was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 3 March 1875 and the first audiences were shocked and scandalized by its transgression of the usual conventions, but the work gained international acclaim over the next decade went on to become one of the most popular and frequently performed operas in the classical canon.

Translations and adaptations

International versions

There have been many adaptations of the opera, including Carmen Jones (1943) by Oscar Hammerstein, La Tragedie de Carmen (1983), a 90-minute version by Peter Brook, various ballet versions and numerous films.[7].

South African versions

U-Carmen (2001)

A notable South African Xhosa and English adaptation is U-Carmen (2001) first performed by the multiracial South African company, Dimpho di Kopane at the Spier Amphitheatre, directed by Mark Dornford-May with musical direction by Charles Hazlewood. The play went on a hugely successful tour to the US, Australia, Canada, Turkey and the UK over the next few years.

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005)

An award-winning film version (now wholly in Xhosa) called U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005), was made by Dipho di Kopane‎ in 2005, produced by Spier Films and again directed by Mark Dornford-May with musical direction by Charles Hazlewood.The text was translated into Xhosa by performers Andiswa Kedama and Pauline Malefane, and it contains music from both the original opera and traditional African music.

Performance history in South Africa

1893-4: Performed in its original by the Lyric Opera Company on tour in South Africa, including performances in the Opera House, Cape Town.

1899: Performed and taken on a tour the South African cities and towns by the visiting Arthur Rousbey Grand English Opera Company, under the management of Frank de Jong and Herbert Flemming, appearing in Cape Town's Opera House in the second half of the year.

2001: Debut performance of U-Carmen at the Spier Amphitheatre, Stellenbosch, in January.


D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.203-205

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