Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu must be the best served recording operatic stars of today. With regular top quality releases of the more mainstream repertoire that is denied many of the rest of today's big-names - and seemingly dictated by the Alagnas themselves.
This new recording of Carmen eschews any attempt at period revisionism and presents the traditional fully sung version that made the opera popular in the first place. It's obvious antecedent is the classic De Los Angeles/Beecham-EMI recording from nigh on 40 years ago(a classic, though in poor sound): a José with supreme expertise in the French repetoire and a soprano(rather than the requested mezzo) Carmen who hasn't performed the role on stage. And the results are almost, if not quite, as satisfactory.
The obvious star turn here is Alagna's Don José. Singing in his native tongue, and showing none of the wear and tear of his recent Trovatore recording (EMI). His elegance and geniality convincingly transform into the passion-driven madness that ensures the tragic end of this story.
Ghoerghiu, unlike her husband, is performing this role for the first time. In doing so she makes history as the first singer to tackle the roles of both Carmen and Michaela (in a recording conducted by Sinopoli). She presents a fiery, imperious, yet tender gypsy, fully up to the vocal and linguistic demands of the role. She perhaps is too nice, but successfully goads José to murder. Of note, as a bonus, she also performs the recently discovered first version of Carmen's entrance song, in a vivacious and compelling manner - even if it sounds out of place in comparision to its eventual replacement(very well performed also).
The weak link is Plasson. His conducting is elegant, but has undoubted longeurs. He takes the traditional view of the opera (for the authentic approach try the historic Cluytens recording with Solange Michel), and garners fine playing and singing. Just occasionally one wished he would put the foot down and carry things forward with a little more rhythmic drive.
The Michaela and Escamillo are sweet voiced but not fully at home with the music. The recorded sound is excellent, excepting Carmen's obviously very long arms in playing castanets that sound about 10 feet away from where she is singing.
I recommend this recording as a very likable, and convincing retelling of this most performed of operas. You will be most unlikely to be disappointed by the best that today's operatic golden couple has to offer.