At approximately 1.45pm this afternoon in Paris, I received a text message from my friend who has a restaurant in the 11th arrondissement: “There’s a woman here who says she wants you to help save the Carmen House,” it read. I raised an eyebrow. My phone buzzed again. “She came in for lunch, figured out that I knew you and began telling me all about this house for sale belonging to the guy who wrote the opera ‘Carmen’.” Now, she had my attention. And that’s how this article came to be.
She was right. A quick Google and I find a local newspaper report confirming that the home of the famous composer George Bizet, situated on the river Seine just outside Paris in Bougival, is for sale– but also at risk.
The house where Georges Bizet composed his most famous opera, Carmen, is a true time capsule of the Romantic era. In a letter to a fellow composer in the Spring of 1874, Bizet wrote: “I found in Bougival, a small corner very quiet by the water. I’m going to finish Carmen”. It was also in this house that Bizet shut himself off from the world after the first public reception to Carmen was a failure.
Bizet would in fact never live to see his masterpiece become the most played and most translated around the world. He died only three months after finishing it, when he suffered a heart attack following a swim in the Seine by his house in Bougival. Like Mozart, he was 36 when he died. On the eve of his death, critics were still giving their opinions on the production, calling his Carmen “the very incarnation of vice” and the music “dull and obscure.” Some speculate Bizet’s death was a suicide. One might say it was heartbreak.
Sporadically open to the public since 2010, the house is owned by private owners who now wish to sell. To prevent it from falling into oblivion, with its history along with it, the city of Bougival has launched the first phase of it first crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds. They need €3 million. It’s a big ticket, but it’s a worthy cause.
It will first cost the city €900,000 to purchase the house, then €560,000 for its restoration. Via the crowdfunding platform Dartagnan, the campaign explains that “the investment includes the interior as well as the exterior restoration of the building, the creation of a museum space dedicated to Bizet, an artists’ residence for writers, plastic artist and musicians and the acquisition of collections.”
The final phase is to create “Espace Carmen” in front of the house of Georges Bizet, in the buildings called “La Ferme” (“The Farm”). The visitor area will include an exhibition space around Bizet’s masterpiece, a recording studio and a multifunctional concert hall for master classes, concerts, screenings, festivals and a European Music Centre.
The famous Spanish opera singer, Placido Domingo, has already shown his support for the project.
Historically, the city of Bougival has been home to many musicians and writers, including the illustrious singer Pauline Viardot, who was Bizet’s friend and neighbour. After his death, she helped bring Carmen to the world after and contributed to its recognition as one of the greatest masterpieces of lyrical art. In an ode to their friendship, the Carmen fundraising project will also see Pauline’s neighbouring home restored and build a path from Villa Viardot to the house of Georges Bizet, officially connecting the homes of these former neighbours.
Patrons of the arts, I call to thee. If it is not our generation who does not preserve and encourage places like this– who will?
PS. Thanks to the lady at the restaurant who tried to get the message about ‘saving the Carmen house’ to me. I hope you’re reading this.