Georges Alexandre Cesar Leopold Bizet

CARMEN

Randall Radic
5 min readNov 22, 2023

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It covers 118 acres of prime land, which would be worth several fortunes to modern developers. Just thinking about it must cause developers to drool. I mean what a waste of prime real estate!

Pere Lachaise it’s called. Victor Hugo once said, “To be buried in Pere Lachaise is like having mahogany furniture.”

The oldest cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise opened for business in 1804. And did so by royal command of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was responding to a national emergency: a lack of new burial sites. So many dead and so little room to bury them.

Indeed, the ‘no vacancy’ problem came to Napoleon’s attention when, the relics of corpses at Cimetiere des Innocents (a cemetery in Paris), as if rising up at the Rapture, shifted, literally breaking through the wall of an apartment complex in which resided the living. Spewing corpses into the basement of the building, along with a mist of mephitic effluvium, which practically asphyxiated the residents, the incident set off government legislation closing all Parisian cemeteries and churchyards to further burials.

Nicholas Frochot, the city planner, by some mysterious means, purchased 118 acres of land from Baron Desfontaines, land that had once upon a time belonged to Louis XIV’s confessor, Pere Lachaise.

Frochot had another amazing talent. Not only was he the city planner, but he also proved to be a promoter equal to P.T. Barnum of circus fame. For initially the cemetery lacked business, a strange response especially under the circumstances. Frochot decided that what his cemetery needed was cachet. He implemented the old adage that nothing breeds success like success. So he arranged for popular and famous corpses to move there. The reburial of certain, select coffins and their slumbering contents, of course, such as celebrity authors Moliere and La Fontaine, was launched. And just to be sure, Frochot secured two superstars of the most romantic type, the earthly remains of Heloise and Abelard.

Almost overnight Pere Lachaise was the place to be seen. It was without argument the second most prestigious place to be buried in Paris. Instant status: the rich and famous among the rich and famous.

Even today, prestige is not the only appeal. The setting is unequaled with its view of tree-lined avenues, of the city of lights. Which explains why there is a waiting list: a list of the living, waiting for the dead to make room for the dying. With over 10,000 tombs, there is no room left, unless your family owns a vault in perpetuity. There exists, though, a five-year plan. A plot may be leased for five years, after which time the remains are deposited in what is called the central ossuary — a kind of elephant’s graveyard for human bones. Only unlike elephants, which go to the elephant’s graveyard to die, the ossuary is where the dead are dumped after their five-year lease expires. Then the plot is re-leased for another five years to some other applicant.

And business is good; there are no slow seasons.

Therefore, it is a preferred location since residence implies flamboyance, class, and a certain amount of wealth because the plots do not come cheap. Indeed, Frochot himself is buried over in section 37.

The power of place.

Walking over to section 68 of Pere Lachaise, a subtle change in ambience is noticeable, that is, if one has not sacrificed that receptivity assigned to the more vulgar senses. An association or atmosphere clings to the section: unseen ghosts, dissipated sounds, a suffused glory which doesn’t fade. Probably due to two of the sections’ permanent residents, both of who are composers. Their music pervades the area, because this is where their souls were laid to rest. And music, of course, being God’s mathematics, is a soulish exhalation.

And I suspect that angels, who are drawn to cemeteries, especially those like Pere Lachaise, Gothic with soot and stupendous statues, come and sing to the dead. Whole choirs of angelic beings, like twinkling lights, singing Mozart’s ‘Mass in C Minor.’ They come because angels do not die. Fascinated by the novelty of death, they study it, croon over it, regale it.

This fascination with death explains why, in particular, the angels visit section 68, specifically. Because of the fiery death scenes in Carmen, and the man who wrote it.

Georges Alexandre Cesar Leopold Bizet, child prodigy, and one-hit wonder. He would not allow himself to write from the heart, preferring instead the dull discipline of composing from the head, which, as any musician will concede, never works because the heart is where the body and the soul join together. So, it is there that music is born.

Bizet died at age 36. The medical reasons for his death are variously listed as throat abscesses, rheumatic fever, a tumor inside his ear, and heart attack. On top of all that, his wife, Genevieve Halevy, was mentally ill and drained Bizet of his emotional and nervous energy. And their son, Jacques, committed suicide.

Mostly, though, Bizet suffered severe depression because he considered himself a failure. All the medical reasons aside, I would say he died of failure. For who can confuse disappointment with success?

When Bizet was 22 years old his mother died. He consoled himself in the arms of the family maid. She got pregnant, and gave birth to a son, Jean Reiter.

On the train to Le Vesinet, where he lived, Bizet met a remarkable woman. She was or had been at various times a prostitute, dance hall escort, equestrian, writer and stage director. Her name was Celeste Venard and she inspired Bizet, became his muse. She was to become the beau ideal (beautiful idea) for Bizet’s Carmen.

Bizet borrowed the story line from Prosper Merimee’s novel, Carmen. Carmen is a brutal woman, a prostitute, without any of the warmth that draws man to woman. And that’s what Bizet wrote: a stark, realistic opera, which depicts the impulsivity and recklessness of humanity. At the time, Carmen was astonishing and ignored every operatic precedent.

Lukewarm describes Carmen’s reception by the general public. Another failure, or so thought Bizet. He died shortly thereafter, on the day of his wedding anniversary. Just after his sad death, Carmen’s vicarious elegance was recognized. Carmen had heart because Bizet in this one instance wrote from his heart. It enjoyed worldwide success, and Bizet, hailed as a master, rested in Section 68 of Pere Lachaise. Where the ravens were making nests in his eyes.

He never knew.

Very interesting, his widow, now wealthy beyond her dreams because of the royalties from Carmen, dated Guy de Maupassant, among others, and later married Emile Straus. Emile was related to the Rothschilds.

The newly married former widow went into haute couture, establishing her own salon, which flourished. She was immortalized as the duchess in Proust’s The Guermantes Way.

Not bad; from incipient insanity to immense wealth to immortality.

Poor old Georges Bizet. Like the tree in The Giving Tree, he denuded himself of everything for his love of music, his opera. In the end, there was just a stump left and no one to come and sit and rest upon it.

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Randall Radic

Randy Radic is a former super model who succumbed to the ravages of time and age. Totally bereft of talent, he took up writing “because anyone can do it.”