From its origins as a Merimee novella, ‘Carmen’ was transformed into a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, and then, with the addition Bizet’s music, into an opera. Each specific genre has its own individuality, culminating in an opera of magnificent magnitude.
Merimee’s novella was an early example of realism, and as such, was not well received by its audience, who felt that it was a little too real. The characters were “course and unscrupulous,”[1] and as Carmen was a gypsy, that particular ethnic group was not thought of in a positive light.

In his novella, Merimee uses the framing device of a narrator, meaning that the reader is left with a view of Carmen that is unreliable. However, through describing her physical appearance as well as the stylistic device of imagery, the reader is alerted to the possibility of the complexity of Carmen. For example, when Don Jose first meets Carmen, he describes her, “wearing a very short red skirt – dainty red morocco shoes – flame coloured ribbons..”[2] The colour is very significant, as red is a very provocative colour, and the same could be said of Carmen. The librettists are aware of the significance of Carmen’s entrance and appearance, stating that, “Her entrance and costume should be exactly as described by Merimee.”[3] However, the librettists did not agree with the novella entirely, making changes, to make it more palatable to the audience, by removing the “crudely realistic features,”[4]   and eliminating the narrator, although the realist setting remained. In the novella, Carmen is presented as an unscrupulous, fearless liar and thief; the violence of her feelings dominates; the opera tries to portray her in a more positive light – the first time in opera that a woman could “flout morality and still remain the heroine of the work.”[5] However, Merimee’s Carmen – a woman who was in total control, the leader of the smugglers for example, created a controversy in the opera as the idea of such a feisty...