Top Ten French Words in Carmen
By: Angelica DiIorio
We at Opera Colorado are excited to close our 2021-22 Season with the well-known opera Carmen. The composer Georges Bizet was born in Paris and the opera is performed in his native French. However, you do not have to feel like you are cramming for a French final to enjoy this opera.
During every Opera Colorado performance, you will find subtitles at your seat translating the French words into your choice of English or Spanish. There are also English supertitles above the main stage. And, just to be completely sure you know what is going on in the story, check out Carmen 101: Characters and Plot to learn more about the story.
Fear not, you will know what is going on even though Carmen is in French. Even still, it is interesting to feel a little closer to the dialogue, so, in this post, we will be going over some of the most common French words sung in the performance. Once you remove all the “and” (et), “the” (le/la/les), and “of” (de) words from the text, below are the ten words that appear most often in the text.
#1 French Word in Carmen: “L’amour”
(n.) meaning love
There is a lot of talk of love in Carmen—specifically the love triangle between Don José, Escamillo, and Carmen. But, Carmen is a drama so one love triangle is just not enough; there is also tension between Don José, Micaëla, and Carmen.
#2 French Word in Carmen: “ Avoir peur”
(v.) to be afraid
After Don José runs off to the mountains with Carmen, it is Micaëla who goes to find him. As she approaches the hideout hosting Don José, Carmen, and a band of smugglers, she is afraid and prays to God to give her courage. She sings, “Seule en ce lieu sauvage, toute seule j’ai peur, mais j’ai tort d’avoir peur” (Alone in this wild place, all alone, I’m afraid, but I am wrong to be afraid). Check out soprano Janai Brugger performing this beautiful aria in Opera Colorado’s 2014 semi-staged production of Carmen.
#3 French Word in Carmen: “ Baiser”
(v.) meaning to kiss
Many words that appear in Carmen are related to love. Characters fall in and out of love or infatuation. Is anyone truly in love? Carmen herself tells you love is not something that can be tamed.
#4 French Word in Carmen: “La fleur”
(n.) meaning a flower
When Carmen and Don José first meet, she throws a flower at him to get his attention. Even as he is arrested for helping Carmen escape the Spanish Dragoons, he holds on to that same flower until they can meet again. He sings, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée, dans ma prison m’était restée” (The flower that you threw to me stayed with me in my prison) in “The Flower Song.” Later on, the flower is what Don José uses to prove the strength of his love for Carmen.
#5 French Word in Carmen: “La mère”
(n.) meaning mother
Don José’s mother checks in on him with messages sent by Micaëla throughout the opera. You will hear a mother pleading for her son to leave the city and come back home to his family—some things never change. These letters from his mother help encourage Don José to marry Micaëla and leave Carmen to return home, but he does not always listen to the wise words of his mère.
#6 French Word in Carmen: “La mort”
(n.) meaning death
At the beginning of the third act, Carmen’s friends, Frasquita and Mercédès, take out cards to tell their fortunes. While her friend’s futures show wealth and true love, Carmen’s cards predict death. This morbid omen might unnerve some, but Carmen resigns herself to the hands of fate.
#7 French Word in Carmen: “L’oiseau”
(n.) meaning bird
One of the most famous arias in Carmen is the “Habanera,” where Carmen sings “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” or “Love is a rebellious bird.” Through this iconic melody, the audience learns Carmen’s nonchalant attitude towards love. She wants to be free as a bird in all aspects of her life, from where she travels to whom she loves. Learn more about this aria from Opera Colorado’s 2022 Carmen herself, mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich. Make sure to watch to the end for her performance of the “Habanera.”
#8 French Word in Carmen: “Les soldats”
(n.) meaning the soldiers
Before abandoning his respectable life to be with Carmen, Don José is a Spanish soldier. In the first act, he and the other soldiers are watching the women who work at the cigarette factory. When a fight breaks out between Carmen and another worker, Manuelita, they step in to halt the brawl. When Don José meets Carmen in this scene, he is quickly challenged to abandon his life as a soldier for her.
#9 French Word in Carmen: “Songer”
(v.) meaning to dream
In his Toréador Song, the bullfighter Escamillo sings the praises of his sport, from enjoying the cheering crowds to craving celebrity for his courage. He sings, “Toreador, L’amour t’attend! Et songe bien, oui, songe en combatant,” meaning “Toreador, love awaits you. And dream away, yes dream in combat.” In this well-known aria, you get insights into Escamillo’s dreams of glory and evidence of his confidence. Get to know Escamillo better with baritone Nmon Ford, and experience a thrilling performance of his aria at the end of the video!
#10 French Word in Carmen: “Le souvenir”
(n.) meaning a memory or keepsake
A souvenir is often a little object you get on vacation to remind you of your trip. Remember the “fleur” or “flower” is a common word in Carmen? That is Don José’s souvenir, reminding him of Carmen when they are apart.
Ten French vocabulary words learned and not a pop quiz in sight! You now know a few more French words and, most importantly, you will be able to recognize some of them in the most iconic melodies in opera. Listen for these words and impress your friends with your French skills when you see Carmen live for yourself!