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Not Just Carmen: Bärenreiter – Alkor's New Editorial Project Highlights “Bizet’s Other Operas”

Apr. 22, 2022

Georges Bizet'sLes Pêcheurs de perles and Carmen are repertory staples, performed in opera houses throughout the world. Nevertheless, it is well-known that many of Bizet's other works were published in seriously corrupt versions after the composer's early death in 1875. The success of Carmen in the 1880s encouraged the publisher Choudens to issue new versions of many works, free of the composer's control.

Hugh Macdonald, General Editor of the “New Berlioz Edition” published by Bärenreiter in 1969–2006, explains:

"There are scores with several different endings to Les Pêcheurs de perles, for example, but only one of those was composed by Bizet. The four-act opera La Jolie Fille de Perth appeared in many different versions, none of them conforming to Bizet's original. Even Carmen was known until the 1950s only in inauthentic adaptations. The Italian opera buffa Don Procopio was not published until 1906, with many additions and revisions by other hands. The grand opera Ivan IV from 1865 was not published until 1951, and then only in a version in which almost every number was revised or altered."

The new editions set out to rectify this history with authentic editions of the music of a major French composer, with full critical commentaries, showing alternate versions and important textual variants.

Bizet contemplated or sketched a number of operas that were never finished (or started). Both Les Pêcheurs de perles and Carmen are available in many different editions today, but the other performable operas have not been so fortunate. The series “Bizet’s Other Operas" therefore consists of five volumes, as follows:

1: Djamileh
2: Don Procopio
3a–b: La Jolie Fille de Perth
4: La Maison du Docteur and Le Docteur Miracle
5a–b:Ivan IV

Volume 1 was published in 2020 and Volume 2 in 2021. La Jolie Fille de Perth is expected in 2022 and the series is due to be completed in 2024. The new edition of Djamileh was featured by Centre de musique romantique française Palazzetto Bru Zane in a revival of the opera in Tours in 2021, to be seen also in Tourcoing in 2022 and Toulon in 2023.

Scores from Fishergate Music illustrate a new approach to layout and organization. The scores are designed to be user-friendly, easily "heard" by conductors and readers, and to represent the music as realistically on the page as to the ear. To this end, all transposing wind instruments are printed at concert pitch. This is particularly helpful since Bizet used horns and trumpets (or cornets) in a bewildering variety of different keys, frequently changing horn crooks, in particular. There are occasions when the clarinets, the two pairs of horns, and the cornets are all in different keys. A traditional score, with these instruments shown at their "written" pitch, gives the notation as the composer wrote it. But what is necessary for a copyist is not helpful to a reader. Fishergate scores represent the sound of the music directly.

Another feature of Fishergate scores is respect for silent bars. Many publications of orchestral scores print only those lines where the player has notes to play, omitting staves if the instrument is silent. This can be very confusing to the reader, so Fishergate always shows the full family of woodwind or brass or strings, as required, to keep a sense of which instruments are participating at any moment."

Hugh MacDonald serves as Editor for the "Bizet's Other Operas" project, and performance materials for operas in this collection will be available at Bärenreiter – Alkor.

To learn more about this exciting new editorial project, click here.