Findings: Getting dirty with Carmen

May 16, 2003

Nineteenth-century musicians stemmed their boredom while rehearsing for Bizet's opera Carmen by making up dirty crosswords, doing sketches of the conductor and calculating their fees, writes Natasha Gilbert.

Richard Langham Smith, reader in music at the school of performance arts, Exeter University, discovered the musicians' musings as he edited early Carmen scores in an effort to discover what Bizet had originally intended for his opera.

The original score included extensive spoken dialogue between songs and was used in the first performances given in Paris. But Bizet died in 1875, soon after Carmen's first run, and a now forgotten composer set the dialogue to music in the form familiar to people today.

Mr Langham Smith told The THES that he was interested in what happened onstage and in the orchestra pit during the first runs of the opera. He consulted the lighting and staging manuals and the orchestral parts used by the first musicians so that he could capture the essence of the work before it was made into a grand opera. It was here that he discovered how musicians' whiled away the time during long rehearsals.

In one particular crossword, the answer to "one across" was prostituée and "one down" was penis .

"These were just idle jottings because some of the players, especially brass, are silent in many of the numbers and have to amuse themselves.

Things haven't changed - musicians still do this today," Mr Langham Smith said.

Mr Langham Smith is now working on a special edition of the score that will include his findings on the production details.

His work is part of a project funded by the Peter Moores Foundation that has produced a CD of the opera, released by Chandos Records on its Opera in English series.

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