Notes and Editorial Reviews
This recording was made by the Austrian Red-White-Red Network in 1954 and Andante has made use of the master tapes. They have a slight problem in that several companies have already issued CD sets of this performance. Andante says its sound is superior to that of these ?completely inadequate pirated editions,? a plausible claim which I cannot verify, not having heard the versions on Gala, Myto, and Urania. What I can testify to is that, sonically, with few exceptions, Andante?s transfer is about as good as it gets for 1954. Some may be disturbed by what seems to be a more distant-than-usual chorus, but there?s nothing wrong with their singing
(Karajan was their music director at the time); particularly seductive is the way he caresses the cigarette girls? chorus, one of the few passages in the performance where his tempo is slower than convention dictates. For the most part, he conducts as if he?s determined to destroy the stereotype that German conductors must be slow and weighty, no matter what music they conduct. Another slight peculiarity to the sound is the prominence of the woodwinds, but this can even be seen as an asset, revealing much delectable detail. The edition used, not surprisingly for 1954, is that of Ernest Guiraud, which replaces Bizet?s original spoken dialogue with Guiraud?s own imaginative recitatives. Seldom has such well-intentioned tampering yielded such good results. It can be argued that, by trying to make the opera more ?respectable? or, perhaps, easier to perform outside of France (so foreign singers wouldn?t have to converse in butchered French, assuming they weren?t using the vernacular), Guiraud inadvertently turned it into a ?grander? and slower-moving opera than Bizet intended it to be. But more than 50 years later, the spoken dialogue has overtaken Guiraud in popularity and there are quite a few recordings that use it; because of Fritz Oeser?s discoveries, some of the music that was, for various reasons, cut before the premiere can now be heard in context (conductors tend to pick and choose among these fragments to the point that most of the spoken dialogue versions are, at least, slightly different from one another). I might point out that my own personal favorite among all the
recordings is the one spoken dialogue edition that was available back in 1954, that of André Cluytens, currently in the catalog, the last time I checked, on the Lyrica label but, contrary to what I read on one Web site, it is
a stereo recording.
Karajan?s performance, if not quite so sprightly, is both energetic and dynamic. Perhaps taking her cue from the conductor, Giulietta Simionato eschews the tempting ?gypsy baggage? mannerisms and offers a clean, agile account of the title role. I don?t mean to suggest that she lacks ?temperament,? and no listener who?s familiar with her singing would even anticipate that, but she channels the temperament into her singing and generally handles the role with a light touch. Like most conductors, Karajan takes the act II Gypsy Dance a little too fast for the singers to articulate it cleanly. Oddly, the Toreador Song seems a shade slower than average. Michel Roux, the one French singer in the cast, is the least impressive of the four principals?he?s a serviceable Escamillo but nothing more than that. It could be argued that Nicolai Gedda was the best ?French? tenor of his time, not to mention the best Russian tenor, the best ?German? tenor (after Wunderlich), and the best Swedish tenor (after Björling); in addition, he usually sang the English language more clearly than the natives. The part of Don José can be sung by a lyric tenor or a dramatic tenor; the problem is that the latter will be less satisfactory in the first two acts and the former may be found wanting in the last two. Perhaps the best tenor is something in between. In 1954, Gedda was certainly a lyric tenor and, though his voice darkened a bit with age, he was never what could be called a dramatic tenor, so his best moments are during the first two acts, where he?s truly excellent. It?s a pleasure to hear him in such fresh voice near the beginning of his career (the Flower Song is gorgeous) and he?s by no means unsatisfactory in acts III and IV, just a shade lighter than ideal. I?ve heard a few Micaëlas that I prefer to Hilde Gueden, but she certainly sings well enough and has the right kind of voice for the role. The other singers are acceptable and I commend the smugglers for managing the quintet at Karajan?s lickety-split tempo. No effort has been made to ?stage? the opera?the only time we hear an ?off-stage? voice is when Roux apparently backs away from the microphone just a bit at the end of act III. The audience, apparently warned that such displays were ?
,? does not applaud between numbers or between acts III and IV, suggesting that they were performed without an intermission. The compact CD package includes a French/English libretto and the expected English/French/German annotations that, in this case, give you much background on the Viennese musical scene in the mid 1950s. Whether you?re tempted by this release depends, of course, on your enthusiasm for any of the participants and how many
your collection can hold. If not the best there is, it?s certainly a worthy performance, arguably, as Andante argues, the best of several that this conductor can be heard in.
FANFARE: James Miller
Works on This Recording
Carmen by Georges Bizet
Nicolai Gedda (Tenor),
Hilde Gueden (Soprano),
Michel Roux (Baritone),
Graziella Sciutti (Soprano),
Mario Carlin (Tenor),
Enzo Sordello (Baritone),
Luisa Ribacchi (Mezzo Soprano),
Giulietta Simionato (Mezzo Soprano)
Herbert von Karajan
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Symphony Orchestra,
Vienna State Conservatory Children's Choir
Written: 1873-1874; France
Date of Recording: 10/08/1954
Venue: Live Vienna, Austria
Length: 149 Minutes 0 Secs.
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