A little history
Carmen got off to a rough start. The unlucky composer finally had a commission in hand: a full-length opera for the Opéra-Comique. Bizet began composing a score for Mérimée‘s short story Carmen, working with the renowned librettist duo Meilhac and Halévy. But the family-friendly opera house baulked at the risqué story, and stopped Bizet in his tracks. Two years later, the opera house changed hands and Carmen started production — but even then, things didn’t go smoothly.
The orchestra and the Chorus complained the score was unplayable and unsingable in parts. They had trouble finding a leading lady.
Nevertheless, Carmen premiered on March 3, 1875, which a who's who of composers in the audience. The reception began warmly but was "glacial" by the final act, according to the librettist.
It played to half-empty houses that year. But after Bizet's sudden death, Carmen was revived in Vienna, then Brussels, then London, and hailed a success.
Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Brahms all praised the work, with Wagner saying “Here, thank God, at last for a change is somebody with ideas in his head.”
Carmen is now credited as a forerunner of the "verismo" movement, where opera composers portrayed normal (read - middle or lower class) people in a realistic style. His melodies evoked the colour and culture of Andalusian Spain.