Yesterday – would you believe it? – I heard Bizet’s masterpiece for the twentieth time. Once more I attended with the same gentle reverence; once again, I did not run away. This triumph over my impatience surprises me. How such a work completes one! Through it one almost becomes a “masterpiece” oneself – And, as a matter of fact, each time I heard Carmen it seemed to me that I was more of a philosopher, a better philosopher than at other times. I became so forbearing, so happy, so Indian, so settled….Bizet’s music seems to me perfect. It comes forward lightly, gracefully, stylishly. It is lovable. It does not sweat.
Friedrich Nietzsche – The Case of Wagner, (Leipzig, 1888).
Nietzsche was, of course, ironically extolling Carmen at the expense of his erstwhile mentor-idol-friend, Richard Wagner. Even though Wagner had been dead for five years, Nietzsche had great fun zinging Wagner’s family, followers, and the entire Bayreuth phenomenon. Yet, his comment that “it does not sweat” ultimately lingers in one’s judgment of Bizet’s masterpiece. Nietzsche would have had little to comment on the subject matter of this opera, nor on the moral turpitude to which the opera’s male hero falls. Nietzsche might have even identified with Don José in his own affair with the free thinking and flamboyant psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomé. With the philosopher’s mother and sister holding him in check, he never had the opportunity to be so lustily ruined by his own Carmen.