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Carmen was first performed on March 3, 1875. Its critical reception dealt Bizet a terrible blow. Unprepared for the sight of women smoking on stage, the “low-life” characters and its theme of erotic obsession, the critics damned Carmen as “vulgar”, “undramatic” and “contemptible”.

Yet, despite Bizet’s resignation (“a definite and hopeless flop”), it had a respectable run of 37 performances that season alone, added to which Bizet was made a Chevalier De La Légion D’honneur and received from his publisher the fairly hefty sum of 25,000 francs for the score.

On the night of Carmen’s 31st performance Bizet died of a heart attack, still believing his opera was a failure. Within months, a second production of Carmen in Vienna was acclaimed as a masterpiece.

In the next three years, it was produced in almost all the major opera houses of Europe. Its impact was greatest in Italy, for Carmen was the forerunner of the verismo operas typified by Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. 

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