Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet

(born Paris 25 October 1838; died Bougival, near Paris 3 June 1875)

During his brief career, Bizet composed in several musical genres, including some thirty operas, many of which remained unfinished. Two of those that did reach the stage, The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles) and The Fair Maid of Perth (La jolie fille de Perth), enjoyed only limited success.

His indisputable masterpiece, Carmen, also failed to enjoy immediate acclaim, though it was later to become one of the most famous operas ever composed and continues to enthral audiences. Bizet, unfortunately, died three months after Carmen’s premiere, unaware of his achievement.

Discover more about the life of composer Georges Bizet including his most famous works, life and early influences. 

The life of Georges Bizet: A summary

In this section you can read more about Georges Bizet’s music, his early life and upbringing, key accomplishments and his sudden death and legacy. 

Early life and education

Georges Bizet was born in October 1838 in Paris, France. Details of his mother and her background are vague, but Bizet’s father, Adolphe was a wigmaker who went on to become a singing teacher.  

Adolphe later married Aimée Delsarte who came from an impoverished but highly musical family. Aimee herself was a talented pianist and her brother François was a distinguished singer at the Royal Courts. 

An only child, Georges had an aptitude for music nurtured by his mother who likely gave him his first piano lessons, he also often listened at the door of his father’s singing classes and from there learnt to sing difficult songs from memory. 

At the age of nine he joined the Paris Conservatoire (their usual entry age was ten) where he studied with accomplished composers Charles Gounod and Fromental Halévy. After only six months he won his first prize which impressed the Conservatoire’s former professor of Piano so much so that he gave Bizet private lessons. 

Bizet’s Piano skills developed quickly, and he won second prize for piano in 1851 and first prize in 1852. During this time he also had two works published; Petite Marguerite and La Rose et l’abeille, both in 1854. His spree of prize winning culminated in the Prix de Rome in 1857 which was awarded for his work Clovis et Clotilde. In addition to receiving a five-year financial grant, winning the prize meant musicians were required to spend two years at the French Academy in Rome and submit a composition each year to the judges. 

In 1858, Bizet travelled to Rome however distracted by Roman social life he only composed one piece during his first six months which failed to impress. 

Apprehensive, and averse to writing more religious music, Bizet wrote an opera buffa (comic opera) Don Procopio which was praised by the Académie’s judges. 

In the following year, Bizet continued to write, however became known for quickly abandoning projects many of which have been lost. 

After extending his stay in Italy for a third year he returned to Paris in 1860 after he received news that his mother was seriously ill. 

Career highlights 

As a composer, he came under the influence of Charles Gounod, then the leading French opera composer, and in the 1850s began writing piano pieces and completed a Symphony; the latter was lost and not rediscovered until the 20th century. 

Even before he came under the influence of Italian composers such as Donizetti and Rossini, he had begun writing his first operas, which include the still occasionally performed one-act operetta Le Docteur Miracle (1857).  

Following the death of his mother in 1861, Bizet wrote a trio of orchestral works and his last envoi as part of the Prix de Rome was an opera entitled La guzla de l’émir, despite the Opera-Comique in Paris choosing to stage the piece, Bizet had received an offer to compose the music for an opera called Les pêcheurs de perles or The Pearl Fishers. 

The Pearl Fishers opened in September 1863 and tells the story of how two men’s vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman. Despite being well received by audiences, critics reactions were dismissive, despite this “The Pearl Fishers Duet” remains one of Bizet’s most famous works. 

Despite being warmly regarded by his peers, Bizet had an immature outlook on life and was known for his cynicism, moodiness and argumentative nature. 

In 1869 he married Geneviève Halévy, the daughter of the composer of the opera La Juive (1835), during this period Bizet openly commented on his changing mindset saying “I am purifying myself and becoming better.” This resulted in his focusing his efforts on the two key features of his music; the creation of exotic atmosphere exemplified in Djamileh (1872) and dramatic truth demonstrated in the music for Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne (1972).

Affected by the Franco-Prussian War and following time-served in the national guard, Bizet wrote his masterpiece Carmen in 1875. Carmen was considered scandalous for its realism, however it ushered in a new period in opera and it subsequently became a favourite with musicians and audiences alike. 

Later life 

Until Bizet wrote Carmen, he struggled financially scraped together a living as a pianist and teacher. He also worked as an accompanist and made piano translations of hundreds of other operas. In 1872, Bizet’s wife Geneviève gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son, Jacques. 

In 1873, Bizet began writing the music to accompany Prosper Mérimée‘s short novel, Carmen, however the work was later suspended due to concerns around its risqué story. 

When the co-director of the Opéra-Comique resigned in 1874, Bizet finished the score for Carmen and despite artistic challenges along the way it opened on 3rd March 1875. 

Depressed by the apparent failure of Carmen and having suffered from a throat compliant throughout his life as a result of smoking, George Bizet travelled to his holiday home in Bougival where he suffered a fatal heart attack on 3rd June 1875 aged just 36 years. 

His funeral was held two days later at Église de la Sainte-Trinité and was attended by more than 4000 people, later than evening there was a special performance of Carmen after which the press declared Bizet a master. 

Despite its mixed reception, Carmen was his breakthrough opera. What he might have achieved had he lived can only be guessed at.

Georges Bizets musical style and influence

Bizet’s best-known music reveals his strong lyrical gifts and acute ear for orchestral sounds. This is intermittently evident in The Pearl Fishers (with its exotic Ceylonese setting) and The Fair Maid of Perth; in Carmen, however, Bizet consistently reveals his immense ability to compose original and memorable melody, inspired by the evocative Spanish setting and the once-shocking appearance of cigarette-factory women on stage.

Though he was accused of Wagnerism, his music doesn’t really owe much to Wagner’s example. Like Tchaikovsky, Bizet strongly admired Mozart and shared with him an acute understanding of, and sensitivity to, the expressive power of the human voice.

The success of Carmen not only relies on Bizet’s melodic gifts and colourful orchestration, but also reveals his sure deployment of dramatic tension, especially in the opera’s final scene. It features some of the most popular opera songs ever written like the Habanera and Toreador songs which are instantly recognisable thanks to their iconic Spanish sounds.

Georges Bizet’s most famous operas

Find out more about Bizet’s operas that have been performed by ENO, as well as operas by other famous composers on our Discover Opera page.

Georges Bizet FAQs

As well as being his most famous, Carmen was Bizet’s last opera. It shocked audiences with its realism when it premiered in Paris in 1875 and when Bizet died three months later, he was completely unaware that it would go on to be one of the most successful operas in the world. 

For most of his life, Bizet had been a heavy smoker and suffered with throat complaints, however following the apparent failure of Carmen, Bizet suffered another attack and was slow to recover. A month later, whilst on holiday and having recovers from the throat infection, he suffered a fatal heart attack and died at just 36 years old. 

Georges Bizet is pronounced Shj-ee-org-es Bee-Zay 


As well as bring an accomplished singer, Georges Bizet studied the piano and organ as a child, after taking lessons from his mother who was a talented pianist. When he was just nine years old Bizet was accepted into the Conservatoire de Paris (the minimum entry age was ten) and was considered a master of the piano by the age of 14. 

Georges Bizet is a French Composer best known for his opera Carmen. Bizet’s realistic style of opera heavily influenced the verismo school of opera, which is a style of opera featuring melodramatic and often violent plots.