Beware Amazon star ratings. Of the 11 reviews appearing today I can identify only 3 which refer to this recording.
Thanks to Ralph Moore for steering me towards this recording with a favourable comment on Mario del Monaco.
I have been enthralled by Jakub Hrusa's Carmen at Glyndebourne. Sadly it is hard to replicate the sheer impact of a live performance. But with Glyndebourne fresh in my memory from yesterday this Decca effort does it. Decca produced some amazing recordings of the Suisse Romande orchestra and this is one of them.
The cast sounds an unlikely bunch. Resnik great in gory Richard Strauss roles. Del Monaco once provoked the wonderful quip 'can belto'. Sutherland trilling wordlessly in Bellini. Only Krauss seems a likely candidate for his role.
But they are all superb. Resnik a former soprano so able to float some effortless top notes and with a staggering vocal range gets right to the heart of her role. Mario and Joan also ping their top notes. Del Monaco sounds not unlike Vickers. Sutherland's French good enough for me and you know she is going to hit every note bang in the middle as does del Monaco when he is trying to. Krauss does not disappoint. Schippers gets nearly all the tempi exactly right. Remarkably close to Hrusa's reading.
I have commented elsewhere it is the sheer visceral excitement of the Reiner version which makes it my first choice. Well this one runs Reiner damn close.
The chorus deserves a mention. Far too often it is too distant on record. Here as on the Reiner version it is right in your face and very exciting.
Those Guiraud recitatives are blended in as well as it is reasonable to expect.
Fortunately you do not need to take a chance on buying second hand as new copies are really inexpensive and that is what I bought and got it next day.
on 31 December 2014
Thomas Schippers moves the action along well, and John Culshaw's 1963 sound for Decca was really good for its time and still sounds present and warm. (FYI -- this is a recording of the version with accompanied recitatives and not the opera-comique version with dialogue). Regina Resnik is a direct, secure, no-nonsense Carmen who knows who she is and what her appeal is, and there isn't a lot of faux-subtlety to the representation. It's about as good as any I've heard, Tom Krause is Escamillo, and he's excellent. His is a voice I didn't hear much in the 1960's and '70's when I was getting to know opera, and I realize now that I missed something. The old cliche of "manly baritone" is brought fully to life in his portrayal. The supporting cast seems to be French, and they are idiomatically at ease with the language. The whole thing is energetic and not over-refined -- an earthy energy comes through, and that includes the choral work.
There are two major drawbacks for me -- Mario del Monaco is very present and the engineers can't find much warmth in his tone. It's big, it's firm, and he holds to a good line, but the mangles the French (vowels especially), and there is no gracefulness at all in his singing, at least as recorded here. There's energy and passion, but it's a bit too rough for me. In Corelli's account with Karajan, there's a compensating warmth in the voice that offsets the poor French, but del Monaco doesn't have it here. The other drawback for me is Sutherland. She too holds a good line, but the diction can be woolly and the tone a bit spread. Some years later, she did a good job with the French in "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," but not so much here. I don't know that there's a perfect "Carmen" -- I haven't heard them all -- but so far Carreras/Baltsa/Karajan and Domingo/Berganza/Abbado are preferable. I haven't heard the Solti/Troyanos but have heard good reports of it.
Where do I start? Fresh from the delights of Solti's classic 1975 account, I'll begin with Maazel's hopelessly idiosyncratic and inconsistent conducting. He pulls tempi about mercilessly from the absurdly frenetic introduction to the unbelievably turgid accompaniment to Escamillo's "Votre toast". Apart from those singers involved who are actually Francophone, everybody's French is terrible, especially that of Corelli and Cappuccilli and at best, as with the chorus, it sounds like a Berlitz International lesson, stilted and book-learned with no wit or charm. What a relief when van Dam's Zuniga sings and speaks; otherwise the poor remains of dialogue we are permitted are severely mangled, except when we are wrenched from the instantly recognisable voices of the singers to the uncredited actors who say the few words of "mélodrame" left and sound nothing like their singing counterparts.
Both principals are well past their prime and wholly out of their depth. Please understand that just as I admire, esteem and cherish certain of Maazel's recordings, I am an equally ardent fan of both Moffo and Corelli but this sorry set should never have been made. Maazel was ever wilful and inconsistent and in this case gets it badly wrong. Moffo is close to voiceless and cannot centre her tone, crooning embarrassingly in an attempt to sound seductive. She was presumably trading upon her legendary comeliness but wherever did the idea come from that Carmen is a role for fading sopranos? Corelli bawls relentlessly, his lisp very much to the fore, sounding as if Turiddu had strayed into Seville. Cappuccilli could hardly sound more unidiomatic, also bawling tonelessly without a hint of the sleek, cruel suavity which the toreador should exude.
As Moralès, Barry McDaniel, another singer I generally like, sounds so Anglo-Saxon with his rather white, light, polite tone (yes; I know he's American, but...); compare him with Thomas Allen for Solti and you'll hear the problem. That fine singer Helen Donath is pretty as Micaëla but bland and correct.
While there might be a long and honourable tradition of performing "Carmen" in Germany and, especially, Vienna, there is no excuse for this sad mish-mash, cut and truncated, horribly sung and almost unrecognisable as Bizet's Gallic masterpiece.
The awfulness of this recording is made all the more incomprehensible by the fact that Maazel's 1982 film soundtrack is amongst the most recommendable.
on 12 August 2008
This is very, very good recording of Carmen. Unbeliveble good recording especealy for the singing of Anna Moffo. It is also almost complete work. Only duetto Don Jose-Escamillo is abbridged...I don't know why. Mazel is condacting very well , lot of ideas and original aproaches., rich orchestra and beautiful sound at all. It is pitty that Moffo didn't ask to record other mezzo roles as Amneris or Eboli or some russian parts like Zars bride. Buy this end enjoy completely
on 26 August 2011
This Carmen was recorded in the heyday of Decca's "Sonic Stage" stereo era, produced by the legendary John Culshaw. The sound is stunningly good for 1963 - Decca led the field in those days. The sound is immediate, warm, clear and full. Shippers generates enormous energy from the Suisse orchestra, the chorus, both the adult and the children's also contribute firey singing.
As to the singers:
I disagree totally with the first reviewer, Resnik was in fine voice, committed and musical, when this was made. She puts De Los Angeles, for Beecham, into the shade. The former sounds as if serving in a tea shop, compared with the best Carmens. Beecham was known as not wanting her casted and it sounds like it.
Del Monaco had a voice of steel, and he gives his all here. It is not subtle, in the most part, but it is dramatic. Act 1 is not his best - Vickers is in a totally different league here for Burgos, but Acts 3 and 4 are better.
Sutherland is wonderful, as long as you are not allergic to her mannerisms, but in 1963 these were not to the fore.
Krause is reliable and musical and well schooled in the part.
There are lots of really good Carmens out there, but at this super-budget price, this is well worth investigating.
on 7 June 2000
Decca really should stop raiding their archives and re-releasing recordings which are well past their sell-by date. Even at bargain price, this Carmen has little to commend it.
Resnik excelled in Strauss villains, and it is unfortunately that approach she adopts here. This must be the most brutal, unsexy gypsy on disc, and listeners will search in vain for elegance or elan in this interpretation.
Del Monaco produces a monotonous forte throughout, chewing up the line and relying on his impressive top notes to carry him through - his French is execrable. There is a certain visceral thrill in Act Four, but so crude is his performance earlier in the piece, you can't wait for the end to come.
Krause and Sutherland sing well enough, and in more idiomatic French, but neither they nor Schippers can save this enterprise - a real duck.
For traditional French style try Beecham (EMI) with de los Angeles and Gedda, and for an excellent modern recording at budget price, Abbaddo (DG Originals) with Berganza and Domingo.
on 5 May 2014
I picked this up in London for under seven pounds, and found it surprisingly good. Surprisingly, because I had read some rather ho-hum reviews years ago. But it's a very good sounding-recording, and Ozawa does a marvelous job with the colorful orchestral writing, and in general the balance of the voices to the orchestra is just fine. I like that the singers do their own parts in the spoken dialogue, and the fact that many of the singers of the smaller parts are French is a definite strength in the ensembles. Of the non-French singers, Simon Estes as Escamillo is perhaps the least fluent. Still, he's in fine voice, and if he lacks the suavity of Jose van Dam in the role . . . well. so do most other Escamillos. As Micaela, over twenty years on from her recording of the role for Karajan, Mirella Freni is fine. The voice has lost some of its amazing beauty, but it's a richer, fuller sound, and her command of the music and the expression is impressive. By Act 3, she's hardly a shrinking violet but rather a brave and determined woman. The Jose here is Neil Schicoff, and he is absolutely convincing as the weak and desperate soldier who gives up his career and his self-respect for what he takes to be love. He is every bit the equal histrionically of Domingo and Corelli, and has better French than both. As for Jessye Norman as Carmen . . . the role is certainly in the voice, and if she starts a bit tamely (as if resisting the urge to cut loose), by the end she is fully engaged. The final scene is very well paced by Ozawa (as indeed are all the ensembles), and Schicoff and Norman rise to it admirably.
One often reads that there is no perfect "Carmen" -- maybe not, but I haven't heard a really bad one either. The music is consistently appealing and dramatically charged where necessary, and it seems to bring out the best in its performers. If you collect recordings of "Carmen," you won't regret adding this to your list.
on 10 February 2013
My favorite song is since being in a lot.
What you like should be on many dislikes are few.
I recommend to friends and acquaintances many.
on 24 June 2011
This is one of the best performances of this opera that you will ever hear. The sound quality of this mp3 version is amazing especially given the era. There is no hiss, crackle, noise etc, the colours are bright and the dynamics are powerful, the only thing is it is not stereo - but you soon forget that. I much prefer this mp3 version to the CD version on MYTO. Whoever has done the restoration on this has done an amazing job.
This is a "live" performance from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It is what the audience heard that night. Most modern "live" recordings are an edited and "improved" version, stitched together from at least 2 performances. The musical standard on this live performance, however, is way beyond anything I hear in the major opera houses today. In particular the orchestral playing is in another league - what has happened to the orchestras of the Met, Covent Garden etc., to make their standard of playing fall so far in the last 50 years? You can take any five minute slice of this performance and the phrasing, the voicing, the rhythmic energy, of the musicians, the chorus and the soloists is marvelous.
The singers are some of the greatest performers of the twentieth century. Styles are undoubtedly different today, (with modern directors taking a more visual approach to interpretation), but there are few singers that can match these for excitement.
So, why is this such an important recording - it is of course because of the conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos. If you do not know his work, then this is a perfect introduction. There is no conductor in the world today who can match his ability to generate excitement while maintaining musical integrity. His control of colour, rhythm and tempo is unparalleled. I do not recall hearing an orchestra today execute such potent rhythm and true graduated changes of tempo - the effect on the music is massive. There is always a sense of rightness, a combination of freedom, expressiveness and discipline.
I believe the objective of the performer should be always to make the audience think "my goodness, The Composer was a genius" . Only a few performers really achieve this (Emil Gilels was another I think). It requires not only phenomenal technical ability, but also the will to go deeper into the meaning of the little black dots and dashes that make up the imperfect instructions supplied by the composer. By revealing the greatness of the composer's imagination, the performer shows less of their own personality. Ironically this means the listener might undervalue the contribution of the artist - unfortunately, as in most areas of life, fame comes to those who shout me me me.
If Mitropoulos had been a more ambitious individual, and played the "game" with the record companies - then we may have had more recordings, but he would not have been the same person - so his "work" would not have been the same.
We just have to be grateful these historic recordings exist at all.
Anyone who is conducting Carmen (or any other opera) MUST listen to this set. Anyone who likes Carmen should own it.