<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill GOSSIP AND REBELLION
Galli-Marié had had considerable success on the stage and had created the title role in Ambroise Thomas's Mignon. Born in 1840 to a singer at the opera, Claude-Marie-Mécène Marié de l'Isle, she was well trained by her father and developed into a fine singing actress whilst never quite achieving the stature of Nilsson or Patti.
Galli-Marié's husband had died in 1861 and she remained single. Writing in 1951, a former Director of the Opéra-Comique suggested, based on back-stage gossip, that Galli-Marié had fallen in love with Bizet. Bizet and Galli-Marié would not be the first leading lady and composer to give rise to rumours during the close confines of the rehearsal process. The gossip was supposedly picked up from the first Don José and the first Escamillo, both of whom survived well into the 20th century. That Bizet and Galli-Marié might have become close is suggestive, given that a sudden cooling developed in their correspondence: she starts addressing him as Monsieur rather than Cher Monsieur.
The development of the opera proved quite protracted, Galli-Marié was quite hard-nosed when it came to negotiating her salary. Finally in September 1874 the piece came to rehearsal at the Opéra-Comique. The rehearsal period was turbulent but gossip apart, we know very little about what exactly happened.
Meilhac and Halévy's considerable success in the boulevard theatres rather prejudiced the public against Carmen, which was to be their first work at the Opéra-Comique. It did not help that to Meilhac and Halévy, Carmen was just another piece (between 1855 and 1875 they collaborated on over forty works). Writing just before the première, Halévy was quite off-hand about the whole subject of Carmen.
If Meilhac and Halévy were a little off hand, at least they were aligned to Bizet's cause. Du Locle, now the sole director of the Opéra-Comique, had a more puzzling attitude to the opera he had commissioned. Box office at the theatre was dwindling and du Locle now had no-one to blame but himself. Also, with Carmen, he was not involved in the dramatic and scenic presentation so he contented himself with making catty remarks about the work and about Bizet's music. This attitude communicated itself to the company; gossip was rife, the musicians rebellious. Normally calm and philosophical, Halévy actually lost his temper during the rehearsals.
Copyright © 5 September 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK