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Carmen: Wiener Philharmoniker (Karajan) [DVD] [2005]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 January 2012
This 1967 film of the 1966 Salzburg production as conducted and directed by Herbert Von Karajan brings together the finest Carmen cast available at the time. Some slight changes were made from the 1966 production which most critics felt improved the performance. Firstly if you are looking to buy a Carmen DVD from the many available do not be put off by the fact this was made in 1967. The sound and video quality are both excellent. The video is a little soft in parts but this actually enhances the overall experience. The colour of the costumes and the background scenery reproduce extremely well with a vibrancy not seen in many productions since. The version of the score used by Von Karajan is the traditional one with the accompanied recitatives, less popular today but I think preferable for this film version. He has also added a dance sequence at the beginning of act 2 ending with a Farandole from Bizet's L'Arlesienne performed by The Mariemma & Ballet de Espana.

Normally in a review of Carmen I would start with Carmen or Don Jose however in this particular version the absolute star of the production is Mirella Freni as Micaela. In the many DVD and blu-ray versions I have of Carmen I have not heard anyone come close to Ms Freni's performance of this role. To me this DVD is worth purchasing just for her performance. Not only does she sing with such sweetness, youthfulness and clarity she also looks like you would expect Micaela to look. She is very pretty and totally convincing. She was 32 when this film mas made and had already made this role her own having début in 1955 with it.

Jon Vickers was at his vocal prime in 1967 and was Von Karajan's best choice for Don Jose. He was best known as a Wagnerian heldentenor but was also capable of singing lighter roles. He exudes power and an impressive stage presence unparalleled by any other singer of his era. This comes across in his portrayal of Don Jose. For perfectionists he is not as good vocally as Domingo who stared in the 1985 film version Carmen (The Restored Edition) [DVD] However if you combine acting and stage presence Vickers is overall the better in the role.

Carmen is literally brought to life by the remarkable talent of Grace Bumbry. Being black does not detract in any way from this performance as her combination of acting ability, stage presence and one of the finest mezzo-soprano voices makes you totally believe in her as Carmen. What helps I think is the fact that Bumbry and Vickers are roughly the same age which gives them a better fit as a couple. She has a rich, powerful voice with a wide range and uses this to great effect. In my opinion you need to jump forward to 2010 to Elina Garanca Bizet: Carmen (Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Elina Garanca) [DVD] [NTSC] before you will find a mezzo-soprano capable of delivering a performance equal to Ms Bumbry's. Don't get me wrong, there are many fine Carmen's but when you listen to Brumby she has a magic that I did not find reproduced until I heard Elina Garanca.

Justino Diaz completes the main roles as Escamillo and what a fine Escamillo he is. He looks like a bullfighter, has great stage presence, acts well and has a bass-baritone voice that is both powerful and defined. He is not the greatest ever Escamillo vocally but the combination of everything he brings to the role helps him hold his own with the rest of the esteemed cast.

Von Karajan's conducting and directing is superb, he is truly a musical genius. The cinematography is remarkably good for what is not a big budget production with great thought going into camera angles that really bring the stage performance to the audience. You feel as though you are immersed in the production with the camera bringing you right in amongst the action. This is best illustrated during the knife fight between Don Jose and Escamillo.

I would recommend this DVD to anyone wanting to own their first version of Carmen and also to fans of Carmen who may already have one or more versions. Buy this just for Mirella Freni's performance.
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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.
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on 9 May 2015
I just want to say a thank you to the reviewer who gave me the information that this DVD has got subtitles. I have just bought the Metropolitan Opera's Carmen DVD starring Jose Careras and Agnes Baltsa and there were no subtitles in any language. I was hugely disappointed. Just a warning to everyone.
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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.
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on 29 May 2015
Lacklustre performance, very unSpanish
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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.
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