Arthaus presents a sensational filmed document from the musical legacy of Carlos Kleiber: The wonderful staging of Carmen by director Franco Zeffirelli in a live recording from the Vienna State Opera in 1978. The meticulous conductor only ever conducted a highly selected repertoire and among his very few audio and video recordings are only seven complete operas.
The Zefirelli staging is the only premiere that Kleiber ever conducted. In December 1978, the masterly Franco Zefirelli created a colourful and atmospheric imagery while the musical genius of Kleiber drew from the music a rhythmic vitality and subtle passion that never lost its transparency and lightness.
Carlos Kleiber conducted an extraordinary cast. Plácido Domingo, still the young lyrical tenor, starred as Don Jose, and Elena Obraztsova gave a wonderful natural Carmen, a far cry from the usual she-devil erotic cliché. The cast was completed by the young Isobel Buchanan who stood in at this production at short notice and included Yuri Mazurok who was later to become a high ranking Verdi baritone. The Viennese audience in the opera house hailed the performance as a triumph. The applause, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, threatened to last as long as a full-length opera, and the legend of Carlos Kleibers Vienna Carmen was born.
Nearly 35 years has passed since then, and the Vienna State Opera has seen many a performance of the Zeffirelli production of Carmen, with singers who were certainly no less eminent than the first cast but none of them have achieved the cult status the first night enjoys in the memories of opera- lovers. The reason for it surely lies in the conductor Carlos Kleiber, who directed that première and stamped it with his own personality.
DVD Wiener Staatsoper 1978/Carlos Kleiber/Ntsc/All Regions