Precisely why this recording—made live at Covent Garden in 1973—is not better known is a mystery; it’s the best Carmen on the market. In the title role on CD there’s no dearth of great singers available, but Angeles is too pure; Callas is too vocally iffy; Norman sounds like a drag queen looks; Berganza is too small; Obratsova is vulgar; Gheorghiu isn’t a Carmen. Only Troyanos (on Decca, also under Solti, and otherwise with the same cast as is recorded here) seems to have it all, but on this recording, made two years earlier, not only is the rest of the cast fresher, more involved, and more exciting, but the great Shirley Verrett is in the title role.
Her big, gorgeous voice, captured at its most lush–and even–is gloriousRead more from C to shining C, her handling of the text natural and womanly. She’s kittenish, coy, and seductive and decidedly dangerous as a result (Bel officier is almost pornographic); her occasional snarls early on should be a warning to anyone less hormonal than Don José. And when she turns on him, she’s terrifying. Because she is a natural mezzo with a good upper extension, there is no problem with register breaks–the perfectly knit sound is a lesson in great singing/acting.
Domingo, who recorded this role commercially at least three times, really sounds like a young soldier here–naïve, anxious to please, conflicted; when Carmen is dancing for him in Act 2, he at first sounds as if he’s about to cry with confusion. After his first few years with a role, he tended to walk through it; here he is thoughtful and involved–and in ringing voice. His Flower Song is beautifully phrased and sung, for the most part quietly (albeit in bizarre French, more noticeable here than elsewhere), and he comes close to ending it softly without actually making it to a pianissimo. Listening to him emotionally fall to pieces by the opera’s close is a remarkable experience.
José van Dam, a thinking man’s bass-baritone, manages to make Escamillo real, and his use of the text is splendid. As Micaela, Kiri Te Kanawa, just a few years into her career, doesn’t quite sound like herself–it may be the role–but it’s a lovely sound. Two Covent Garden stalwarts, Richard van Allen and Thomas Allen, as Zuniga and Morales, add class to the event.
Solti, using an edition with spoken dialogue, leads, as one might expect, a big-boned reading. He can build a crescendo mightily–the Gypsy Song starts like a lullaby and ends properly insanely–but he’s also conscious of the score’s graceful moments. The sound is generally good broadcast quality, a bit muffled, but with the voices well-caught despite the usual stage noises. A French/English libretto is included. Listen to this: it’s like hearing the opera anew. [Disclaimer: The present writer contributed the booklet notes to this recording.]
Carmenby Georges Bizet Performer:
José Van Dam (Tenor),
John Dobson (Tenor),
Shirley Verrett (Mezzo Soprano),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Teresa Cahill (Soprano),
Richard Van Allan (Bass),
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Soprano),
Anne Pashley (Soprano),
Francis Egerton (Tenor),
Thomas Allen (Baritone)
Sir Georg Solti
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1873-1874; France Date of Recording: 1973 Venue: Live London, England
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Levine is right again July 8, 2014By Gerard Willem van der Meiden (The Hague, Netherlands)See All My Reviews"Levine is a reliable critic and again he is right. This Carmen is more authentic than every other one. Never a dull moment. Very strange indeed that it is not better known."Report Abuse
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