Bizet: Carmen

Selection 3: Don José's Flower Song: "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" [Act II]

The scene is a local tavern after hours. Carmen and her friends are joined by the group of smugglers. Carmen is waiting for Don José to arrive. He is heard singing in the street as he approaches. He enters. Outside, a bugle call announces the return to barracks sounds, but Don José disregards it. Carmen dances for him.

From his tunic, he pulls out the flower that Carmen threw to him in Act I just after singing her Habañera. As he does so, the English horn quietly sounds the "fate motive," beneath shimmering tremolando strings, as a signal that he has taken a fatal step (we could think of it as his conscience speaking to him, and as if the others are unaware of it).

His Flower Song is one of the most lyrical moments in the entire opera. It is through-composed; i.e. none of its melodic material returns in any literal sense. The aria comprises five strains of melody, each with four (or five) lines of poetry, thus four (five) phrases. Part of the aria's magic comes from the sudden shifts to remote keys between one strain and the next (see the right-hand column: D flat-->A major; A flat-->F major; and F-->D flat major), which seem to transport us wonderfully from one realm of feeling to another.

Note that in Strain 5, the first three phrases are a downward sequence, after which the remaining three lines form a Coda to the aria as a whole. Note, too, the magical shift to the remotest harmonies on the last-but-one syllable "t'ai." Then Don José's very first phrase of melody steals mysteriously back in the violins.

Performance of "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée"

0:00 Introduction   Introduction  
  Don José draws flower from his tunic): "fate motive" in English horn.   Don José draws flower from his tunic): "fate motive" in English horn.  
  Strain 1   Strain 1  
  Don José   Don José  
0:40 Here is the flower that you threw me,
While in the jail it never left me,
Though dry and faded, yet the flower
Has kept its scent, its magic power;
  La fleur que tu m'avais jetée
dans ma prison m'était restée,
flétrie et sèche, cette fleur
gardait toujours sa douce odeur;
D flat major
  Strain 2   Strain 2  
1:16 In my cell for whole hours together,
I would close my eyes and remember,
Until the scent set me on fire,
And in that night I'd see you there!
  et pendant des heures entières,
sur mes yeux, fermant mes paupières,
de cette odeur je m'enivrais
et dans la nuit je te voyais!
A major
(=flat 6th)
-->D flat major (=tonic)
  Strain 3   Strain 3  
1:51 Then I would curse the hour I met you,
And, trying to hate and forget you
I'd even say: oh why did fate
Ever decree we two should meet!
  Je me prenais â te maudire,
â te détester, â me dire:
pourquoi faut-il que le destin
l'ait mise lâ sur mon chemin?
B flat minor
(=rel. minor)
-->A flat major
  Strain 4   Strain 4  
2:23 Then I stood accused of blasphemy,
And to myself if thought only,
I thought only of one desire,
Only one desire, only one hope.
Let me find you, Carmen, see you again!
  Puis je m'accusais de blasphème,
et je ne sentais en moi-même,
Je ne sentais qu'un seul désir,
un seul désir, un seul espoir:
Te revoir, ô Carmen, oui, te revoir! ...
F major
(=major 6th of A flat)
  Strain 5   Strain 5  
3:01 For you had only to appear there,
Your dark eyes but to glance my way,
And you possessed me then forever,
O my Carmen!
And I meant only thing to you!
Carmen, I love you!
  Car tu n'avais eu qu'à paraître,
qu'â jeter un regard sur moi,
pour t'emparer de tout mon être,
O ma Carmen!
Et j'étais une chose à toi!
Carmen, je t'aime!
D flat major

Don José: James McCracken
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, cond. by Leonard Bernstein (1973)
Library copy: CD2283