Georges Bizet’s Carmen remains one of opera’s most popular hits, partly because of its rich and exotic melodies. These melodies were the inspiration for Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, written in 1883.
In the nineteenth century, composers commonly used opera melodies as a springboard for new virtuoso showpieces. At the time, arias from Carmen and other operas would have fallen into the category of “popular music.” Franz Liszt wrote a Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Grande Paraphrase de Concert sur le Rigoletto de Verdi among other opera-inspired pieces. Joshua Bell’s 2001 West Side Story Suite continues this tradition.
Here is Sarah Chang performing Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy:
Franz Waxman offered another take on Carmen in his score for the 1946 film Humoresque. Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie was originally written for Jascha Heifetz, but the score was recorded by a young Isaac Stern. Here is the film’s original trailer. The recordings by Heifetz and Stern are both worth hearing: