Titled L'amour est un oiseau rebelle, the protagonist of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, a Sevillian gypsy of the same name who works in a cigarette factory, sings this song whose title roughly translates to "love is a wild bird".

The song is featured in the first act of the opera and describes Carmen as a wild, exotic character as well as one of the play's central themes: love and its disasterous consequences. Several of the lyrics also foreshadow events in the play, including Carmen being attracted to Don José when he ignored her, but the need for him to beware when he falls in love with her and she suddenly loses interest.

Act One of Carmen takes place in a town square in Seville, Spain where the workers in a nearby cigarette factory are taking their break. Carmen sets her sight on an officer from the nearby guardhouse, Don José, and sings this song, with a refrain from a chorus of factory workers and soldiers in a verse-refrain-verse-refrain pattern:

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle
que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle,
s'il lui convient de refuser.
Rien n'y fait, menace ou prière,
l'un parle bien, l'autre se tait:
Et c'est l'ature que je préfère,
il n'a rien dit mais il me plaît.
L'amour! l'amour! l'amour! l'amour!

Love is a rebellious bird
that nobody can ever tame
and you can call him in vain
if it suits him not to come
Nothing helps, threat or prayer
One man talks well, the other is silent
It’s the other one that I prefer
He says nothing but I like his looks
Love! Love! Love! Love!

L'amour est enfant de Bohême,
il n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime:
si je t'aime, prends garde à toi!

Love is a gypsy child
It has never, never known law
Love me not, then I love you
If I love you, you’d better watch out!

L'oiseau que tu croyais surprendre
battit de l'aile et s'envola
l'amour est loin, tu peux l'attendre;
tu ne l'attends plus, il est là!
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite,
il vient, s'en va, puis il revient ...
tu crois le tenir, il t'évite,
tu crois l'éviter, il te tient.
L'amour! l'amour!, l’amour, l'amour!

The bird you thought you had caught
spreads its wings and flies away
love stays away, you wait and wait
when least expected, love appears!
All around you, swift, so swift,
It comes, it goes, and then returns
You think you hold it fast, it flees
You think you’re free, it holds you fast
Love! Love! Love! Love!

However, the lyrics do not tell the entire story. The strings being plucked in the background sound similar to the tango and continues throughout, adding to the aria's sexual undertones. As noted in the program notes from the New York Philharmonic, the scene is often played to turn attention towards Carmen's sexuality, and in some productions, she is often shown teasing the nearby soldiers and eating an orange. In the Metropolitan Opera version of the opera, Carmen, played by Denyce Graves, eats an orange while squirting the juice into Don Juan's face, thus fusing the two symbols together.

Note well: Georges Bizet died in 1875, more than fulfilling the required duration needed to reprint copyrighted works.

Also, my fellow Francophiles: I've checked this translation several times as well as the grammar of the original French. If you find an error, please alert me. Thank you.

Sources: Most of the technical information about the operatic patterns came from this Columbia University webiste: "http://www.columbia.edu/itc/music/NYCO/carmen/amour.html"

The habanera is a type of folk music that was popular in Cuba in the mid-1800s. It is quite catchy, and it was imported to Spain in 1875, where it became very popular for a couple of decades. This is where the name habanera actually comes from, danza habanera being Spanish for 'dance of Havana'. (The Cubans had simply considered it a form of contradanza, and had not considered it worthy of separate label).

Of course, most of us don't know this. In most English-speaking counties 'Habanera' refers to the Habanera Aria, AKA L'amour est un oiseau rebelle, from Georges Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen. If you don't recognize the piece (I guarantee that you know it, even if you don't recognize the name), you can hear it here, or if you prefer your classical music a capella and sung by Muppets, here.

Of course, there are other habaneras. The distinguishing feature of habaneras is its short, repeating 2/4 rhythmic figure in the bass line 1. Other habaneras include Sebastian Yradier's La Paloma (here) and Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes' habanera Tu (here). As these demonstrate, habaneras are usually rather slow, sweet, and not accompanied by French opera.

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