9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2011
This is a 1967 film of Karajan's Salzburg Festival production of Carmen. The picture and sound quality are truly excellent for a film of this age. The colours are vibrant and the sound is wonderful. Orchestra and voices are both recorded very well. There are two soundtracks, LPCM stereo or DTS 5.1 surround sound.
This is an absolutely classic performance of the traditional score using the sung recitatives added by Ernest Guiraud rather than the original spoken French dialogue which is generally preferred nowadays. Whilst the musicality of the recitatives is not as inspired as Bizet's own score, in the hands of such great exponents as Karajan and his assembled cast, they work well and it is interesting to hear a performance uninterrupted by spoken dialogue. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan is just outstanding. The sheer beauty of their playing is an absolute joy and Karajan directs a great performance of the score which really enhances the drama and the singing and brings out the power and quality of Bizet's great score. He inserts some extra orchestral items by Bizet, largely from L'Arlesienne, at the start of Act 2 to permit an extra sequence of Spanish dances.
As for the cast, it could hardly be bettered, and such a uniformly strong quartet of principals is not equalled on most of the modern DVDs. Grace Bumbry is stupendous as Carmen. She looks absolutely stunning and her pure vocal line and power are just marvellous. She is partnered by Jon Vickers as Don Jose. He may look too old for the part and his French pronunciation is not great, but vocally and dramatically he is again superb, not quite the equal of Jose Carreras in the DVD from the Metropolitan Opera, but almost as good.
Alongside the two main principals the subsidiary characters are played by absolutely outstanding singers who look great and are also excellent actors. This is the only DVD recording of Mirella Freni playing Micaela, a role which she made her own. This DVD would be immemsely desirable for this reason alone because it has caught Freni at the height of her vocal powers and looking beautiful too. This role has rarely, if ever, been sung and portrayed as well on DVD. The outstanding quartet is completed by an Escamillo who has never looked better and is sung with all the quality and richness of Justino Diaz' fantastic bass-baritone voice.
I do not know what the previous reviewer expects in terms of acting in opera, but this is dramatically one of the best acted stage productions I have ever seen. The principals are all excellent actors, but the depth of believable character portrayal runs throught the entire cast right down to the youngest of the children. There is real involvement and credibility here in the events and the action. The filming combined with the acting of the chorus and extras makes for really thrilling and involving crowd scenes.
The film gives the appearance of being a stage production and the performance and scenery are all essentially of the type one would expect on stage and are based on the Salzburg Festival production. However, as one watches the action unfold the sets are clearly so large and detailed and the scene changes so extensive that it appears that this must have been filmed on a specially constructed series of sets. One great advantage of this is that there is no audience and absolutely no intrusive audience noise. We do, however, get to see Herbert von Karajan and the orchestra during the overture and orchestral interludes, which is nice.
The costumes are lavish and appropriate and altogether this is a visual delight in a truly traditional production.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2012
This has always been a controversial performance since the day it was first performed. Most controversial of all was Karajan's introduction of Mariemma and the Ballet of Spain into Act Two and dancing Carmen's "seguidilla" for her ! I still vividly remember the Daily Telegraph's music critic almost dying of apoplexy and rage ! And he was not the only one! There was fury, too, at just how far away from the original Merimée novel Karajan's "super de-luxe" wide-screen production had strayed. No gypsy taverns here, just a rather smart Puerto Banus nightclub !
Well, some people may still be enraged and there is no denying that all these points are true ! And Karajan does introduce a ballet scene (with flamenco, no less !)As well as great chunks of L'Arlesienne. But it is visually stunning and dramatically atmospheric and gives us the opportunity to hear some stunning playing by the Vienna Philharmonic in very unfamiliar territory, really amazing playing. They really seem to be enjoying themselves. Nor was it all that uncommon, especially in Paris, to introduce ballet scenes into an opera (even into Wagner!)Also, this trick of lightening the tension before the drama really begins is also quite well known- Shakespeare uses it all the time. Still, if you like your Carmen grim and gritty and earnest with no spurious colour, you should give this one a miss.
That would be a shame since it is one of the finest Carmens in existence and certainly the best played. Karajan's "usual" Carmen, Leontyne Price is replaced in the film by Grace Bumbry, presumably because Miss Bumbry is more photogenic and less portly ! It is fairly well known that Karajan and Bumbry did not get along too well and did not work together again but it does not show. Jon Vickers, to be honest, has a slightly odd voice, especially when singing softly. He is really a "Heldentenor" and is at his best when "belting it out !" He is incredibly powerful and very dramatic and makes a welcome change from "The Three Tenors." His virile power enhances the drama no end, as in no other performance. No swooning, lovesick drip, he ! This is real gutsy stuff, even if Carreras croons more sweetly ! Mirella Freni is incredible, as always. In my own view, she is perhaps too good, if that is possible, in the sense that she frequently out-sings Carmen, which is dramatically wrong. Still, she is so ravishing to listen to, who is going to complain ? No, my only complaint is Justino Diaz, who sings like a block of wood ! But, again, he "looks the part." Especially in the last act. Not many singers could be convincing as bullfighters ! Pity that Justino Diaz is not very convincing as a singer ! But "looking the part" is important in this film.
I could go on all night ! Suffice it to say that this version of Carmen is the one that leaps off my shelves more than any other by far (and I saw it when it first came out and could hardly believe it was on the stage). Musically, it is in a class of its own and I can promise you, it never fades! A stunner, if its quirks don't annoy you too much ! Who knows, you might even enjoy them ! I find they add considerably to the whole thing and the colour and atmosphere.
12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2006
Among filmed operas there is a whole spectrum between full film versions and filmed stage productions. Often it is hard to know from a cover where on this spectrum a certain DVD is. If you, like me, are primarily interested in film versions of operas, then this is perhaps not the right choice. This carmen production has been filmed on an opera stage and is for all intents and purposes a filmed stage productions (even though it has apparently been filmed without audience).
The background, the (bad) acting and the costumes everything is 100% stage production. Little effort has been made to optimise the visual impact of the performance, although Grace Bumbry is a pleasure to look at.
A great feature of this production, however, is that the director replaced the spoken dialogue by a rezitativ. This is rare nowadays but undoubtedly an advantage particularly if you like to watch (or listen to the) opera more frequently.