About this work
Georges Bizet's Carmen may well have been a failure at its premiere in 1875 (accounts of the opera's early reception differ only in the degree of animosity critics directed at the work, and none describes it as anything approaching successful), but by the early 1880s its fame was already such that the famous violinist Pablo de Sarasate felt justified in adding the opera to the list of famous ones -- Don Giovanni, Der Freischütz, La forza del destino, among others -- that he had already chosen to craft into concert fantasies for violin and orchestra or piano. The Concert Fantasy on themes from Bizet's Carmen, Op. 25, universally known as the Carmen Fantasy, is the only one of these operatic adaptations that still finds its way to the world's concert halls. Sarasate's appreciation of Bizet is total, and one cannot accuse him of defacing Bizet's remarkable music, Somehow, even in its most elaborately ornamented and virtuosically oriented passages, the Carmen Fantasy upholds the opera's dignity -- something that can be said of few operatic fantasies indeed.
Sarasate's Fantasy is in four movements, with a prelude that in essence amounts to another movement. The prelude is an adaptation of the Entr'acte to Act Four of the opera (the "Aragonaise"), and the first movement adapts the famous Habanera sung by Carmen in Act One ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle") -- here, the little grace notes that Sarasate adds to the chromatic tune are perfect. The gentle second movement is expertly crafted to foil the active music all around it, while the F sharp/D major juxtaposition of the third movement shines every bit as brightly as does in its original guise (the Séguidilla aria of Act One). Sarasate makes a direct link between the third movement and the frenetic Bohemian Dance (from Act Two) that is the fourth. Here, raw virtuosity takes over, providing the violinist an athletic workout not at all unlike the one that Bizet's original version provides for the dancers and orchestra.