Habanera Lyrics, Translation, and History

From Bizet's Opera, Carmen

Louise Callinan, Genia Kuhmeier, Philippe Jordan, Anna Caterina Antonacci, and Philippe Faure bow onstage with cast.
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/French Select/Getty Images

In 1872, while in Paris, France, Georges Bizet was commissioned by the Opéra-Comique to write a full-length opera despite the lukewarm 11-performance run of his one-act opera Djamileh at the same theater. With a libretto by Henry Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on the novel of the same title by author Prosper Mérimée, Bizet's full-length opera was called Carmen. The opera takes place in Seville, Spain during the mid 19th century. "The Habanera," arguably Carmen's most famous aria (alongside the Toreador Song), literally means a "Havanan dance." This musical style originated in Cuba's capital, Havana, in the late 19th century, and it spread throughout the Spanish colonies like wildfire. It captivated European composers including Bizet, who intelligently incorporated the style of music within his opera.

Habanera Trivia

  • Maria Callas is to the Habanera as Luciano Pavarotti is to "Nessun Dorma." Today, most performances of the famous aria are measured against hers.
  • Sesame Street created a stop-motion film of an orange singing the Habanera.
  • In 1985, the filmed adaption of the opera starring Julia Migenes and Placido Domingo was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

The Context of the Habanera

The Habanera, or "L’amour est un oiseau rebelle" is sung by Carmen in the opera's first act after she and the other women workers exit the cigarette factory and gather in the town square. Groups of soldiers already in the square begin flirting with the women, including Carmen. They ask her specifically when she will love them and she replies with this aria.

French Lyrics of the Habanera

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
Que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
Et c’est bien in 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’autre que je préfère.
Il n’a rien dit mais il me plait.

L’amour! L’amour! L’amour! L’amour!

L’amour est enfant de Bohême,
Il n’a jamais jamais connu de loi.
Si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime.
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!

Si tou ne m’aimes pas, si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime,
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!

L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendere
Battit d’aile et s’envola.
L’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre.
Tu ne l’attends pas, il est là.

Tout atour de toi, vite vite,
Il vient, s’en va, puis il revient.
Tu crois le tenir, il t’evite.
Tu crois l’eviter, il te tient.

L’amour! L’amour! L’amour! L’amour!

L’amour est enfant de Bohême,
Il n’a jamais jamais connu de loi.
Si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime.
Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!

Si tou ne m’aimes pas, si tou ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime,
Mais si je t’aime, si je t’aime, prends garde à toi!

English Translation of Habanera

Love is a rebellious bird
that nobody can tame,
and you call him quite in vain
if it suits him not to come.

Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.
One man talks well, the other's mum;
it's the other one that I prefer.
He's silent but I like his looks.

Love! Love! Love! Love!

Love is a gypsy's child,
it has never, ever, known a law;
love me not, then I love you;
if I love you, you'd best beware! etc.

The bird you thought you had caught
beat its wings and flew away ...
love stays away, you wait and wait;
when least expected, there it is!

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!

Love is a gypsy's child,
it has never, ever, known a law;
love me not, then I love you;
if I love you, you'd best beware!