Georges Bizet’s son Jacques was one of Proust’s earliest and closest friends: they attended primary school together from 1881, and it was Jacques Bizet with whom Proust and Halévy collaborated not only on Le Banquet, but also on the Revue verte and Revue lilas at the Lycée Condorcet. The connections between the Bizets and the Halévys were much closer than that, though. Jacques’s mother, Geneviève Bizet, was an Halévy by birth and the first cousin of Daniel Halévy’s father Ludovic (1833–1908) who, with Henri Meilhac (1831–97), co-wrote the libretto for Georges Bizet’s Carmen and for Offenbach’s La belle Hélène (thereby earning themselves Nietzsche’s enthusiastic approbation—see KSB viii. 275). These relations are perhaps best entangled by means of a simplified family tree (Fig. 1).1 Two other points about this configuration need to be borne in mind: first, Geneviève Bizet’s father (Jacques François) Fromental (Elie) Halévy (originally Elias Lévi, 1799–1862) had been a composer of no little reputation in his own right. He won the Prix de Rome in 1819, and Georges Bizet was one of his pupils at the Conservatoire, where he taught from 1827, but his greatest success came with the grand opera La Juive (f. p. 1835), which in turn—despite its subject matter and the Jewishness of its composer—met with Wagner’s high praise,2 and the ‘hit’ aria from which is the ‘Rachel! Quand du Seigneur’ quoted by Proust’s narrator in À la recherche (JF i. 567).
(p.252) Second, after Georges Bizet’s death in 1875 Geneviève remarried Émile Straus and became the Mme Straus who was to be such a confidante of Proust’s—but who also narrowly missed being the recipient of a copy of Der Fall Wagner from Nietzsche himself. In a letter of 6 October 1888 (KGB iii/6 320), Georg Brandes suggests to Nietzsche that he send a copy of Der Fall Wagner to Bizet’s widow, now remarried ‘mit einem sehr wackeren Mann, dem Advocaten Strauss [sic] in Paris’ (‘to a very honest man, the lawyer Strauss in Paris’), remarking of Jacques Bizet: ‘Das Kind Bizets ist von idealer Schönheit und Lieblichkeit’ (‘Bizet’s child is perfectly handsome and lovely’). Nietz-sche is evidently delighted at the idea (see KSB viii. 450/SL 312), and writes back to Brandes a fortnight later asking for Mme Straus’s address (KSB viii. 456/SL 317). On 13 November he writes to Köselitz: ‘Dieser Tage trifft die Adresse der charmanten Wittwe Bizet’s bei mir ein, der eine Freude mit der Zusendung meiner Schrift zu machen ich sehr ersucht werde’ (‘Any day now I am expecting to receive the address of Bizet’s charming widow, and I am being strongly urged to make her happy by sending her my book’) (KSB viii. 467 f.); the same day he tells Overbeck’ with a typical embellishment of the truth, that Bizet’s widow ‘sucht Beziehungen zu mir herzustellen’ (‘is seeking relations with me’) (KSB viii, 470/SL 324), but unfortunately Brandes canaot provide her address (KGB iii/6 352), so Nietzsche has to abandon the idea.
1 For a somewhat fuller picture, see jean-Pierre Halévy, ‘Introduction’, 9–17.
2 See e.g. Wagner’s 1842 article ‘Halévy und die französische Oper’. in Richard Wagner: Sämtliche Schriften and Dichtungen, 16 vols. (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1911–16), xii. 131–48. In Mein Leben (1884) he allows himself to be persuaded that Halévy’s forthright manner ‘justifies the participation of all Jews in our artistic concerns’ [My Life (London: Constable, 1994), 255); by 1880, though, he can enjoy La Juive only because it is ‘not at all Jewish’ (Cosima Wagner’s Diaries: An Abridgement, trans. Geoffrey Skelton (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), 377).