Carmen de Boheme

"Carmen de Boheme" is a song by Jeremy Gill for mezzo soprano and violin. It sets the poetry of Hart Crane.


Notes from the composer:

Pablo de Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy is unique among Carmen fantasies in that it uses only music that Bizet's Carmen herself sings. This idea of the violinist-become-Carmen was as important to me as Sarasate's notes (which I use freely): my violinist is Carmen, my mezzo-soprano one of her many admirers.

Hart Crane's “Carmen de Boheme” was written when he was still a teenager, and its excesses may be attributed to his youth, but they create an over-the top atmosphere in which Carmen, now careworn and life-weary, “flaunts through the gloom” post-performance at some gaudy theater, “bright peacocks” adorning the walls.

The Sarasate and Crane are tricky, expressively: Bizet's “exoticism,” which Sarasate embraces, today seems ethnically stereotypical, and one struggles to take this technical showpiece seriously. As for Crane's Carmen: is she a great performer still to be admired, or an aging nobody who should have hung it up long ago? 
Carmen de Boheme
by Hart Crane

Sinuously winding through the room
On smokey tongues of sweetened cigarettes,—
Plaintive yet proud the cello tones resume
The andante of smooth hopes and lost regrets.

Bright peacocks drink from flame-pots by the wall,
Just as absinthe-sipping women shiver through
With shimmering blue from the bowl in Circeʼs hall.
Their brown eyes blacken, and the blue drop hue.

The andante quivers with crescendoʼs start,
And dies on fireʼs birth in each manʼs heart.
The tapestry betrays a finger through
The slit, soft-pulling:—and music follows cue.

There is a sweep,—a shattering,—a choir
Disquieting of barbarous fantasy.
The pulse is in the ears, the heart is higher,
And stretches up through mortal eyes to see.

Carmen! Akimbo arms and smouldering eyes;—
Carmen! Bestirring hope and lipping eyes;—
Carmen whirls, and music swirls and dips.
“Carmen!” comes awed from wine-hot lips.

Finale leaves in silence to replume
Bent wings, and Carmen with her flaunts through the gloom
Of whispering tapestry, brown with old fringe:—
The winers leave too, and the small lamps twinge.

Morning: and through the foggy city gate
A gypsy wagon wiggles, striving straight.
And some dream still of Carmenʼs mystic face,—
Yellow, pallid, like ancient lace.

(composed c. 1916, published 18 March 1918 in Brunoʼs Bohemia)

Audio PLaylist