Three opera composers of the highest class died before they were forty. Mozart’s oeuvre is so rich in variety and accomplished in technique that one could not wish for more: his achievement seems miraculously complete. But Bellini and Bizet each left only one outright masterpiece – Norma and Carmen respectively – alongside a pile of works that are immature, fragmentary or compromised. Listening to their music and reflecting on their truncated lives is tantalising and frustrating; one can only speculate that another decade would have allowed them to progress much further and perhaps change the course of the art form.
There’s an irony to Bizet’s early demise, too. He died in 1875 from a heart condition, shortly after the premiere of Carmen, disappointed by the faint praise it received and unaware that within a decade it would become probably the most popular opera in the world – a status it