Born Alexandre-César-Léopold, but baptized Georges, Bizet, a child prodigy, entered the Paris Conservatory of Music at the unheard-of age of nine.
Following a three-year stay in Rome, he returned to Paris where he dedicated himself to composition. Early into his return to Paris, Georges' mother died. In 1863 he composed the opera Les pecheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) for the Theatre-Lyrique.
Bizet's best-known work is his 1875 opera, Carmen, which was based on an 1846 novel of the same name by Prosper Mérimée. Influenced by Giuseppe Verdi, he composed the title role in Carmen for a mezzo-soprano. Not an immediate success, Bizet became despondent over the perceived failure, but praise came from such luminaries as Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Claude Debussy, who recognized its greatness. Their views were prophetic, as the public made Carmen one of the most popular works in operatic history.
Bizet had long suffered from quinsy, a painful inflammation of the tonsils associated with angina and never got to enjoy Carmen's success. Just a few months after the opera's debut, he died on his sixth wedding anniversary at the early age of 36, the official cause of death being listed as a failed heart due to "acute articular rheumatism". He was interred in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.
It is not well known, but Bizet was an extraordinarily fine pianist, whose playing was praised by no less a judge than Franz Liszt himself. After Bizet flawlessly sightread a complex piece, Liszt said he considered Bizet one of the three finest pianists in Europe.