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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Callas is still great despite poor voice
"Carmen" is a great opera to start one's introduction to the magical world that is opera. Georges Bizet wrote an opera with cohesive dramatic tension, finely-delineated characters, wonderful music, and pulsing energy. "Carmen" is truly a masterpiece. No wonder it is one of the most performed operas in the world's opera houses.
Maria Callas is one of the greatest...
Published on 15 Feb 2003 by V. Chau

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Acting - Poor Voice
Callas certainly creates an interesting character as Carmen - whether it is Bizet's is a matter of opinion. This is a malicious, spiteful Carmen, who swallows Don Jose whole. Sadly, it is quite painful to listen to as by this time Callas' voice had deteriorated badly. Gedda is a fair Jose but Massard a humourless toreadore who sings his famous song as though he's reading...
Published on 22 May 2009 by Mr Swallow


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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Callas is still great despite poor voice, 15 Feb 2003
By 
V. Chau (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
"Carmen" is a great opera to start one's introduction to the magical world that is opera. Georges Bizet wrote an opera with cohesive dramatic tension, finely-delineated characters, wonderful music, and pulsing energy. "Carmen" is truly a masterpiece. No wonder it is one of the most performed operas in the world's opera houses.
Maria Callas is one of the greatest sopranos of the past century. On this recording, we can see why. She is Carmen. There is none of the annoying bitchiness or overdone sexual flirtatiousness in her portrayal of the fiery, independent Gypsy that one gets so often with other interpreters of the role. Her phrasing is marvellous. Her French is surprisingly good. Not every "r" is rolled but that can be forgiven due to the fact that Callas was not a native French speaker. I wish there had been spoken dialogue included in this recording. It would have been a joy to hear Callas speaking French.
Callas does a great job with Carmen's ear-pleasing melodies. The "Habañera" is done at a faster pace than most other versions. It seems more appropriate with fast tempo than with the slow, ponderous tempo that one finds so often on other recordings. Callas' voice had deteriorated greatly by 1964, the year this recording was made. However, this opera's music rarely strains her voice. Carmen's mezzo-soprano tessitura is negotiated comfortably by Callas. Her dark voice and its strong chest register lend a haunting quality to the "Habañera" that seems perfectly appropriate. Her toying with Don José's emotions is totally convincing. Her rendition of the "Bohemian Dance" is very well done....Carmen is not a coloratura role. Callas' control of emotions is amazing. She never overacts in this role, which is a role that is too often acted in an overly melodramatic way. Her anger and defiance in the last scene are examples of her great mastery of vocal acting.
Gedda is an excellent Don José. He sings with honeyed tone and superb French diction. When he sings in French, he can do no wrong, unlike when he sings in Italian. He makes some very beautiful sounds. His sincere, dedicated singing makes his portrayal of the love-struck Don José totally convincing. His high notes in his big aria are very beautiful and well done.
The other singers do a fine job singing in their native tongue. PrÍtre does a wonderful job conducting. He uses faster tempo than is normally heard in recordings of this opera, but he is totally correct in his decision to do so. Bizet's music sounds better and much more exciting when it is played fast than when it is played slow.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Acting - Poor Voice, 22 May 2009
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
Callas certainly creates an interesting character as Carmen - whether it is Bizet's is a matter of opinion. This is a malicious, spiteful Carmen, who swallows Don Jose whole. Sadly, it is quite painful to listen to as by this time Callas' voice had deteriorated badly. Gedda is a fair Jose but Massard a humourless toreadore who sings his famous song as though he's reading the evening news. Pretre, conducting as though he has a train to catch, rattles through Bizet's miraculous score in a somewhat insensitive fashion. Pity Callas never recorded this with Karajan.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bewitching portrayal from Callas, 28 Jan 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
Returning to this recording after a good few years has been an interesting experience. First of all, I find PrÍtre's conducting to be better than I had remembered. It is - surprise, surprise - very French, as is the whole performance: fleet, delicate and nuanced without quite the heft I'd like at key points - for example, the children's soldier chorus is far too polite for street urchins - but his approach is far preferable to turning the score into a verismo parody and the climax of the smuggler-gypsy quintet is thrilling - PrÍtre whips up a storm. Similarly, the Entr'acte before Act 4 is full of life and colour, making quite an impact. As the French tradition in singing and performance becomes more and more diluted, a recording which is wholly Gallic with the exception of the two principal singers is increasingly valuable - and both Callas and Gedda were very conscientious, adaptable artists able to immerse themselves successfully in different idioms, as here. Both were excellent linguists and it shows.

The sound was always good - typically EMI 60's, slightly peaky, eminently listenable; the acoustic of the Salle Wagram was rendered less reverberant with drapes to permit sufficient warmth.

My admiration for Callas' Carmen increases with time. She cleverly exploits a potential flaw - the pronounced break between her two registers - to bewitching effect. Previous commentators such as the reliably perverse and wrong-headed Rodney Milnes have accused her Carmen of being all tigress with no allure; you have only to listen how subtly she effects certain key phrases such as "Je suis amoureuse" to give that the lie. A couple of sour top notes apart she sings with a smoky voice recast especially for the role: hard, cupped, with a trenchant lower register. She sometimes moves between notes with an enchanting "yodelling" effect and often goes for a sardonic, disingenuous under-statement. It is almost de rigeur to criticise her French yet she spoke the language fluently and lived in Paris from 1962 until her death. I'm a French singer and I think she sounds pretty authentic when she delivers lines like , "l'on m'avait mÍme dit de craindre pour ma vie" with real attention to the correct pronunciation of tricky vowel sounds as in "loin" and to the two French "r" sounds in "craindre".

I have never been a big fan of Gedda - I find the voice fundamentally bleaty - but within that limitation he does a fine job, especially in the last act where he almost manages to transcend the lack of steel in his voice to convey José's manic passion - but he's no Jonas Kaufmann. Robert Massard is almost forgotten today but I always loved his neat, refined, expressive baritone - so very French and perhaps, like so many deceased French tenors, the last of a vocal genre. He is perhaps too refined for Escamillo but he sings so idiomatically and the voice itself is fundamentally so attractive. Andréa Guiot was, pace a previous reviewer, no comprimario but a star in her era; no milksop she, she gives MicaŽla the gutsy profile she too often lacks, especially in her main aria which she delivers in a big, slightly edgy and very positive manner rather than the usual whine and I like it.

The tagline for the recording was "Callas is Carmen"; in fact, Carmen is Callas here but none the worse for it; no-one else has encompassed the role as completely as she does here - and the fact is that it doesn't date as her conception of the character was already very modern. "Jamais je n'ai menti" declares Carmen, and Callas brings just such a searing honesty to her portrayal.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carmen as perfect as we like to hear, 2 May 2012
By 
Francisco J. MuŮoz (Santa Cruz, Bolivia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
Without a doubt Maria Callas is the best Carmen on records or off the records ! As simple as that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bewitching portrayal from Callas, 28 Jan 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
Returning to this recording after a good few years has been an interesting experience. First of all, I find PrÍtre's conducting to be better than I had remembered. It is - surprise, surprise - very French, as is the whole performance: fleet, delicate and nuanced without quite the heft I'd like at key points - for example, the children's soldier chorus is far too polite for street urchins - but his approach is far preferable to turning the score into a verismo parody and the climax of the smuggler-gypsy quintet is thrilling - PrÍtre whips up a storm. Similarly, the Entr'acte before Act 4 is full of life and colour, making quite an impact. As the French tradition in singing and performance becomes more and more diluted, a recording which is wholly Gallic with the exception of the two principal singers is increasingly valuable - and both Callas and Gedda were very conscientious, adaptable artists able to immerse themselves successfully in different idioms, as here. Both were excellent linguists and it shows.

The sound was always good - typically EMI 60's, slightly peaky, eminently listenable; the acoustic of the Salle Wagram was rendered less reverberant with drapes to permit sufficient warmth.

My admiration for Callas' Carmen increases with time. She cleverly exploits a potential flaw - the pronounced break between her two registers - to bewitching effect. Previous commentators such as the reliably perverse and wrong-headed Rodney Milnes have accused her Carmen of being all tigress with no allure; you have only to listen how subtly she effects certain key phrases such as "Je suis amoureuse" to give that the lie. A couple of sour top notes apart she sings with a smoky voice recast especially for the role: hard, cupped, with a trenchant lower register. She sometimes moves between notes with an enchanting "yodelling" effect and often goes for a sardonic, disingenuous under-statement. It is almost de rigeur to criticise her French yet she spoke the language fluently and lived in Paris from 1962 until her death. I'm a French singer and I think she sounds pretty authentic when she delivers lines like , "l'on m'avait mÍme dit de craindre pour ma vie" with real attention to the correct pronunciation of tricky vowel sounds as in "loin" and to the two French "r" sounds in "craindre".

I have never been a big fan of Gedda - I find the voice fundamentally bleaty - but within that limitation he does a fine job, especially in the last act where he almost manages to transcend the lack of steel in his voice to convey José's manic passion - but he's no Jonas Kaufmann. Robert Massard is almost forgotten today but I always loved his neat, refined, expressive baritone - so very French and perhaps, like so many deceased French tenors, the last of a vocal genre. He is perhaps too refined for Escamillo but he sings so idiomatically and the voice itself is fundamentally so attractive. Andréa Guiot was, pace a previous reviewer, no comprimario but a star in her era; no milksop she, she gives MicaŽla the gutsy profile she too often lacks, especially in her main aria which she delivers in a big, slightly edgy and very positive manner rather than the usual whine and I like it.

The tagline for the recording was "Callas is Carmen"; in fact, Carmen is Callas here but none the worse for it; no-one else has encompassed the role as completely as she does here - and the fact is that it doesn't date as her conception of the character was already very modern. "Jamais je n'ai menti" declares Carmen, and Callas brings just such a searing honesty to her portrayal.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, 20 Oct 2004
By 
D. Bennett - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
This Carmen is magic. Callas is really exciting as Carmen, perhaps the best on record despite her voice being worn, Gedda is a great Don Jose, and the rest of the cast is acceptable. Overall the Claudio Abbado set with Domingo and Berganza is a better recording, generally the cast is stronger, but that does not stop me loving this set.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wunderful carmen, 10 Oct 2013
By 
Ewold Bom (Den Haag, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
I like her very much and her carmen is very well, because her middle registser (it is a mezzesoprano role in Carmen instead of soprano) was stil OK when she recorded this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Carmen, 29 Aug 2013
By 
Dag Kyndel "Kottebo" (Stockholm, Sweden) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
Yes, I am a great admirer of Callas. But I can be critical when needed. I am not very found of her second Norma or her Cetra La Traviata - BUT this is my ideal Carmen. A Swedish wellknown critic once wrote (about this Carmen recording) that La Callas sang as she had a hot potatoe in her mouth.
However I think se sings the role in an excellent way and like no other is able to express Carmen as a truthful character. She IS Carmen. Gedda is excellent in one of his very best roles. If I had to chose one recording of Carmen only, this is it!
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4 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lully's Atys Divided by Democracy Equals Carmen, 13 Nov 2006
By 
John D. Pilkey "Puluga II" (Santa Clarita, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
It is easy to see hear why Carmen is so popular. The music is original, vivid and memorable; and the plot, understandable. But I dislike the theme and moral atmosphere. It is no coincidence that Nietzche praised this opera as alternative to the betrayal he felt by the revived Christianity of Wagner's Parsifal. Carmen's cigarette factory and Gypsy independence symbolize the gathering consensus of 19th century secularism. What comes across is a brilliant cheapness as judged against the regal dignity of French Baroque opera created by Lully two centuries earlier. The two-century development of democratic taste has resulted in general impudence-- the same quality exhibited in some of Manet's paintings, in Twain's works and in Charlie McCarthy's declaration that he will listen to genteel Edgar Bergen's highbrow story if he can "mark a deck of cards" while doing so. Some of us revel in this sort of thing. I do not.
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Bizet: Carmen
Bizet: Carmen by Maria Callas, Nicolai Gedda Georges Pretre (Audio CD - 2009)
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