The Paris audience in 1875 was shocked by the sexually explicit realism of Bizet’s exotic operatic masterpiece, its ‘verismo’ depiction of low life and brutal passion. But since the disastrous première – a sensational failure which hastened Bizet’s premature death – it has been the greatest operatic success. It led to a film opera, a jazz opera, a rock ballet and a Broadway musical. Equally, it impressed great composers including Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Vaughan Williams. The story, written by Prosper Mérimée and adapted by librettists Meilhac and Halévy, is set in colourful Seville, in southern Spain, renowned for bullfights. The corporal Don José is seduced by Carmencita, a gypsy whore who works in a tobacco factory. With her Habanera (a Cuban dance like the tango) and Andalusian Seguidilla, she charms him, and escapes prison. She falls for Escamillo, a celebrity toreador associated with the famous tune Toréador en garde. Don José’s Flower Song fails to win her for long. We visit the haunt of Seville’s demi-monde, Lillas Pastia’s bodega, and a gypsy encampment in the mountains, before José stabs Carmen outside the bullring. Written by Michael Steen, author of the acclaimed The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, ‘Short Guides to Great Operas’ are concise, entertaining and easy to read. They are packed with useful information and informed opinion, helping to make you a truly knowledgeable opera-goer, and so maximising your enjoyment of a great musical experience. Other ‘Short Guides to Great Operas’ that you may enjoy include Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin.