Sprinkled With So Many Coincidences

Peter Sellers plays Claire Quilty, a pompous hipster playwright, the alter ego and nemesis to James Mason’s lustful professor, Humbert Humbert. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)

 
 

The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is sprinkled with so many coincidences that it is hard to tell when coincidence stops and fate begins. In this work, coincidence and fate are fraternal twins. Whether the reader picks up Lolita for second, third, or three hundred and forty-second reading, hidden little treasures of coincidences and connections spring out from their carefully selected hiding places.

Humbert Humbert has a first love experience when he is young with Annabel Leigh. (the character was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe‘s poem, Annabel Lee). It is a strange coincidence that  Humbert and his Annabell  also have their first romantic encounter by the Mediterranean. After her young tragic death, Humbert cannot get over his infatuation with young girls. However, it is not just any kind of young girl that he pines for. It is a strange breed, the breed of nymphet. When Lolita, the very embodiment of nymphets, first enters the scene, she peers over her sunglasses at Humbert. The sunglasses are a strange connection between Lolita and Annabel Lee. “Half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses” . Lolita is a reincarnation of Humbert’s first love.

In Lolita, the name is used in reference to Mr. Clare Quilty, the man who takes Lolita from Humbert. Carmen and Clare being both male and female names, Lolita uses them to deceive Humbert into thinking he is a woman and no threat.

Several times throughout the novel, Humbert refers to Lolita as his Carmen.
“O my Carmen, my little Carmen!
Something something those something nights,
And the stars, and the cars, and the bars and the barmen-
And, O my charmin’, our dreadful fights.
And the something town where so gaily, arm in
Arm we went, and our final row,
And the gun I killed you with, O my Carmen,
The gun I am holding now”

This song that Humbert recaptures here sums up his relationship with Lolita: their fights, car rides, men looking eagerly at her, and finally the gun that Humbert uses to kill Quilty.

There are a host of more passing literary allusions in Lolita, but they decorate rather than determine the death bound tragedy set by Poe, Proper Mérimée’s Carmen with other tales of love and revenge, and doppelgänger stories.

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Love Is A Rebellious Bird

Georges Bizet’s manuscript of Habanera

 
 

Habanera, the popular name for L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird), is one of the most famous arias from Georges Bizet‘s 1875 opera Carmen. It is the entrance aria of the title character, a mezzo-soprano role, in scene 5 of the first act.

The score of this aria was adapted from the habanera El Arreglito (The Little Arrangement), originally composed by the Spanish musician Sebastián Yradier. Bizet thought it to be a folk song; when others told him he had used something that had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he had to add a note to the vocal score of Carmen, acknowledging its source.

 
 

Emilie Ambre in the role of Carmen in Bizet’s opera of the same name. Painting by Edouard Manet, c. 1879

 
 

Quand je vous aimerai? (When will I love you?)
Ma foi, je ne sais pas, (Good Lord, I don’t know,)
Peut-être jamais, peut-être demain. (Maybe never, maybe tomorrow.)
Mais pas aujourd’hui, c’est certain! (But not today, that’s for sure!)

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Love is a rebellious bird)
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser, (That none can tame,)
Et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle, (And it is well in vain that one calls it)
S’il lui convient de refuser. (If it suits him to refuse)
Rien n’y fait, menace ou prière; (Nothing to be done, threat or prayer.)
L’un parle bien, l’autre se tait, (The one talks well, the other is silent;)
Et c’est l’autre que je préfère; (And it’s the other that I prefer)
Il n’a rien dit mais il me plaît. (He says nothing but he pleases me.)…

…L’amour est l’enfant de Bohême, (Love is a gypsy’s child,)
Il n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi; (It has never, never known the law;)
Si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime; (If you do not love me, I love you;)
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi! (If I love you, take guard yourself)…

…L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendre (The bird you hoped to catch)
Battit de l’aile et s’envola. (Beat its wings and flew away)
L’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre; (Love is far, you can wait for it)
Tu ne l’attends plus, il est là. (You no longer await it, there it is)
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite, (All around you, swift, swift,)
Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient. (It comes, goes, then it returns)
Tu crois le tenir, il t’évite, (You think to hold it fast, it flees you)
Tu crois l’éviter, il te tient! (You think to flee it, it holds you)…

Excerpts from Habanera

 
 

To watch Maria Callas singing this aria in Covent Garden (1962), please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

A New Type of Operatic Heroine

Illustration of Bizet’s opera Carmen, by Luc. It was published in Journal Amusant in 1875

 
 

Poster from 1975

 
 

Carmen is an opera comique in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet. The libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and , based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, on 3 March 1875, and at first was not particularly successful.

 
 

Celestine Galli-Marie, the mezzosoprano who created the role of Carmen. Painting by Henri Lucien Doucet.

 
 

The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial. After the premiere, most reviews were critical, and the French public was generally indifferent. Carmen initially gained its reputation through a series of productions outside France, and was not revived in Paris until 1883; thereafter it rapidly acquired celebrity at home and abroad, and continues to be one of the most frequently performed operas; the Habanera from act 1 and the Toreador Song from act 2 are among the best known of all operatic arias. Later commentators have asserted that Carmen forms the bridge between the tradition of opéra comique and the realism or verismo that characterised late 19th-century Italian opera.

 
 

Poster for a circa 1896 American production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, starring Rosabel Morrison, and under the management of Edward. J. Abraham

 
 

When artistic life in Paris resumed after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Bizet found wider opportunities for the performance of his works; his one-act opera Djamileh opened at the Opéra-Comique in May 1872. Although this failed and was withdrawn after 11 performances, it led to a further commission from the theatre, this time for a full-length opera for which Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy would provide the libretto. Halévy, who had written the text for Bizet’s student opera Le docteur Miracle (1856), was a cousin of Bizet’s wife, Geneviève; he and Meilhac had a solid reputation as the librettists of many of Jacques Offenbach‘s operettas.

Bizet was delighted with the Opéra-Comique commission, and expressed to his friend Edmund Galabert his satisfaction in “the absolute certainty of having found my path”. The subject of the projected work was a matter of discussion between composer, librettists and the Opéra-Comique management; Adolphe de Leuven, on behalf of the theatre, made several suggestions that were politely rejected. It was Bizet who first proposed an adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen. Mérimée’s story is a blend of travelogue and adventure yarn, probably inspired by the writer’s lengthy travels in Spain in 1830, and had originally been published in 1845 in the journal Revue des deux Mondes. It may have been influenced in part by Alexander Pushkin‘s 1824 poem The Gypsies, a work Mérimée had translated into French; it has also been suggested that the story was developed from an incident told to Mérimée by his friend the Countess Montijo. Bizet may first have encountered the story during his Rome sojourn of 1858–60, since his journals record Mérimée as one of the writers whose works he absorbed in those years.

Carmen herself, is a new type of operatic heroine representing a new kind of love, not the innocent kind associated with the “spotless soprano” school, but something altogether more vital and dangerous. Her capriciousness, fearlessness and love of freedom are all musically represented: “She is redeemed from any suspicion of vulgarity by her qualities of courage and fatalism so vividly realised in the music”. American music critic and journalist Harold C. Schonberg likens Carmen to “a female Don Giovanni. She would rather die than be false to herself”.

Carmen and The Hallucinogenic Toreador

Portrait of Carmen

 
 

Portrait of Escamillo

 
 

A Place in Seville

 
 

Rendez-Vous of the Smugglers

 
 

Love is like a Gypsy

 
 

Carmen Sings Gypsy Songs

 
 

The Habanera

 
 

Outside the Arena: The Fruit Vendor

 
 

The Harpist’s Allegory of Carmen’s Love

 
 

Lillias Pastis’s Tavern

 
 

Tribute to Escamillo

 
 

Awaiting the Fray

 
 

The Bird is Flown

 
 

The Bull is Dead

 
 

The Cards Spell Death to Carmen

 
 

Carmen and Don Jose Fleeing on Horseback

 
 

Whoever Carries off Carmen

 
 

Carmen’s Death

 
 

Don Jose’s Flower Song

 
 

Don Jose’s Last Appearance

 
 

The illustrated suite Carmen by Salvador Dalí, consists of 25 lithographs on various papers. They were produced in 1968.

 
 

El torero alucinógeno (Hallucinogenic Toreador), Salvador Dalí, 1968-1970. In this piece, Dalí transmits his wife’s dislike for bullfighting

 
 

The time is the late 1960s, and with Hallucinogenic Toreador, Salvador Dalí returns to all things Spanish and reveals his fascination with the colorful psychedelic explosion of those mind-bending times. As Sixties’ political rebellion gives way to Seventies’ decadence, we find the Spanish master undertaking his famous Carmen series of colored lithographs, published in 1970. The brigands, gypsies, and smugglers, who form the cast of this most beloved of operas, are the perfect counterpoint to Dalí’s increasingly distracting wealth and fame.

Dalí would depict the bullfight numerous times throughout his career and George Bizet‘s opera, set in Seville and featuring the toreador Escamillo in a primary role, provides Dalí with an ideal context in which to explore this most Spanish pastime. We illustrate here the complete suite of 25 hand-signed lithographs and believe you will agree that it is one of the most exquisite Dalínian triumphs of color and vivacity.

A Real Bright Road For a Beautiful Butterfly

Otto Preminger was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded, particularly after having seen Dandridge’s performance as a demure schoolteacher opposite Harry Belafonte in Bright Road (Gerald Mayer, 1953). Her agent’s office was in the same building where Preminger’s brother Ingo worked, and he asked Ingo to intercede on his client’s behalf.

At his first meeting with <Dandridge, Preminger told her she was "lovely" and looked like a "model" or "a beautiful butterfly," but not Carmen, and suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen.The director was impressed enough to schedule a screen test for mid-May, after Dandridge completed a singing engagement in St. Louis. In the interim he cast Juilliard School graduate Olga James as Cindy Lou.

On May 21, Preminger announced Dandridge had been cast as Carmen. Initially thrilled by the prospect of playing one of the best film roles ever offered an African American female, Dandridge quickly began to doubt her ability to do it justice. After several days, she told her agent to advise Preminger she was backing out of the project. The director drove to her apartment to reassure her and assuage her fears, and the two unexpectedly began a passionate affair.

 
 

Dandridge was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role in the 1954 movie Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, 1954)

Channeling Carmen Jones

Theatrical poster for the film Carmen Jones(Otto Preminger, 1954). Design by Scott McKowen

 
 

Dorothy Dandridge strikes a pose in a scene from the film Carmen Jones. Costume design by Mary Ann Nyberg

 
 

Janet Jackson

 
 

-scura_1-700x501Halle Berry in the television film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (Martha Coolidge, 1999)

 
 

Beyoncé Knowles

 
 

Rihanna

Wine, Women, Words and Entertainment

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In 1946 Billy Rose‘s memoir Wine, Women and Words, dedicated to Rose’s early patron Bernard M. Baruch, was published in New York by Simon and Schuster. The book was illustrated, including the cover of the numbered and signed first edition of 1500 copies, by Salvador Dalí whom Rose met while producing events at the 1939 World’s Fair.

“William ‘Billy’ Rose was an American impresario, theatrical showman and lyricist. For decades preceding and immediately after the Second World War Billy Rose was a major force in entertainment, with shows, such as Jumbo (1935), Billy Rose’s Aquacade, and Carmen Jones (1943). His Diamond Horseshoe nightclub, and the Ziegfeld Theatre influencing the careers of many stars. Billy Rose was inducted as a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. In 1943, he produced Carmen Jones with an all-black cast. An adaptation of George Bizet‘s opera Carmen, the story was transplanted to World War II America by lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. It was an instant hit. The New York Telegraph called it ‘far and away the best show in New York’; The New York Times said it was ‘beautifully done … just call it wonderful’. The New York Herald Tribune said that Oscar Hammerstein II ‘must be considered one of the greatest librettists of our day’ and that Carmen Jones was ‘a masterly tour de force’. It was made into a motion picture by Otto Preminger in 1954, for which Dorothy Dandridge received an Academy Award nomination.