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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 18 January 2014
It has become fashionable and even de rigueur to patronise this recording as "as French as Wiener Schnitzel" but I've done a lot of listening to a lot of different versions of "the world's favourite opera" and although ultimately I completely understand why many favour an authentic French recording such as that by Cluytens, Bizet's masterpiece is now world property and if you examine this set objectively, you will find that it has a great deal going for it. Of course, the other factor is automatic Karajan-bashing, whereby the works of this great conductor must be routinely derided by the ill-informed. I shall say no more other than to remark that, despite the presence of Jonas Kaufmann, Simon Rattle's "Carmen", with Kozena as about as seductive as a utilities bill, is very weak tea indeed.

First of all, beautiful sound with some very effective stereo effects, such as that of the boys marching in from the right to stage left, the distant bells and bugles, and the general sense of air and space to suggest town squares and bull-rings.

Secondly, a largely French-speaking supporting cast; only the four principals aren't French and of those, Robert Merrill was an excellent linguist, Price and Freni sing good, standard, "international" French and Corelli...well, is Corelli. Actually, he has patches where his struggle with the language is considerably less apparent but there are moments when it's just as well that he's singing a Latin anti-hero. To be fair, Domingo isn't so much better for Solti although by the time he gets to the second recording Maazel made (forget the first with a quasi-voiceless Moffo and a bellowing Corelli) his French has improved and he makes a major contribution to what I still consider the best, all-round compromise recording.

But back to this Karajan recording: The VPO plays wonderfully and although one sometimes misses a certain earthiness in the gorgeous sounds they and Karajan make, this is not a performance without energy. The singing is divine: Mirella Freni in her first contribution to major opera recording is perfect, with her melting, lyric tone and spinto reserves for the big emotional out-pourings. Merrill is the epitome of machismo, as good as Massard for Pretre, and Price rivals Callas for smoky allure. Like Callas, a true soprano sfogato, Price could, before the lower register became too cloudy, inject heft and a dusky timbre into the bottom of her voice while retaining brilliance up top. If you love Corelli, as I do, and also enjoy big-voiced tenors such as Del Monaco and today's Kaufmann as Don José, you will revel in his trumpeting tones and famous diminuendos.

In short, the reputation of this recording - degraded by the usual suspects at the "Gramophone" and by such as Rodney Milnes in "Opera on Record" - is unfair and it stands up well against versions by Solti while being considerably more exciting than the de Burgos recording with Vickers and Bumbry, whose French is no better and who commit the worse fault of simply sounding dull, whereas Price and Corelli are visceral in the bloody dénouement.
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on 7 September 2015
The voices on this live recording are rather recessed but it's an extraordinary cast, experienced conducting from Pretre, fine playing from the La Scala orchestra and it has really guts and atmosphere. Both Cossotto and Domingo on peak form and Van Dam a more musical Escamillo than usual.
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on 15 December 2014
Excellent quality recording, great singing and musicianship all round. Purists might have a bit more to say, but I think this is a really good Carmen; honestly can't fault it.
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on 19 February 2014
This version of the full work is well worth the price. I would highly recommend this recording, as a mp3 download
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
When I was a teenager, I used to read all the magazine reviews and Penguin record guides and was desperate to hear this recording. I remember ordering it from my local record shop and finding that it had been deleted from the catalogue. The shop keeper sold me Abbado's recording and I was addicted to it. It made me fall in love with the opera.

Listening to this recording, I am glad that I did not get it at the time; I don't think I would have fallen in love with the opera. I will try to explain.

On paper, it seems to have the strongest elements. Leontyne Price, who had one of the finest lyrico spinto soprano voices. Franco Corelli, a golden voiced visceral Italian tenor, Mirella Freni, a beautifully sung Michaela and Robert Merrill, a swaggering Escamillo. As well as this, we have Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic. The recording was produced by John Culshaw, one of the greatest record producers, who was especially skilled at bringing recorded opera to dramatic life.

Unfortunately however good/brilliant the individual elements are, there does not seem to be much synergy. To start with Karajan, I think the orchestra plays beautifully and I noticed plenty of glorious detail. He conducts on a grand scale. However, this is also a very intimate work and it is also very earthy. I felt somehow that the surface brilliance masked rather than revealed the character of what Bizet was writing. I also felt that simply playing certain sections faster does not necessary add dramatic intensity. By contrast, I have greatly enjoyed Leonard Bernstein's Metropolitan Opera recording, which, often played more slowly somehow seems more dramatically engaging.

Individually, the singers are fine. Leontyne Price has a gorgeously smoky soprano voice and I really enjoyed it. I have no criticism also of Mirella Freni's lyrically singing. With Franco Corelli, I was impressed by the quality of the voice but did find the singing a bit shouty and somehow lacking in 'line'. The minor parts are sung fantastically. There is not really a weak link in the cast. However, at the same time, I did not get the feeling that any of the singers were interacting with each other. For instance, in the first Act, we don't get any sense that Zuniga is trying to charm/seduce Michaela. Later on in the same act there is a lovely duet between Michaela and Don Jose. However, the true beauty of this duet was not realised because there seemed to be not attempt by the singers to blend their voices together.

I don't want to be too harsh. If you are a fan of any of the singers or performers on this recording, you will be pleased to hear it and this recording has a definite feeling of grand opera. It is also unusual in that it contains recitatives rather than spoken dialogue.

I did enjoy listening to it; it's just that I enjoyed other recordings more.
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on 5 October 2014
Wonderful recording with the younger voice of Ms. Price.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2015
Inspired by Ralph Moore's excellent review I bought a mint second hand copy from Zoverstocks for 66 pence. Even the booklet with full text and translation and the slipcase were perfect. Bargain of a lifetime. I heard this on LP and knew I was going to enjoy Price's Carmen. The Escamillo and Micaela are as good as you will hear anywhere. It is very rare to hear a Micaela hit all the notes dead centre as here. Enchanting. Corelli's French is a little interesting. One star deducted for the recording which although atmospheric is sometimes unreasonably distant.
Bizet wrote Carmen in exasperation at the huge success at the Opera Comique of La Dame Blanche, a lovely work which should be heard more often. Well Bizet succeeded in producing the most popular French opera of all time. So much so that the Grand Opera enthusiasts hijacked it and it was for a long time performed mostly with Giraud's recitatives instead of the original spoken dialogue. This is the Grand Opera version but Herbie makes a very good job of papering over the joins. The drama is lessened though, most noticeably in the Act 3 knife fight which is severely shortened.
I am currently much enjoying Jakub Hrusa's conducing of this work at Glyndebourne. Some of his tempi make Herbie sound severely conventional. But both really relish the brilliantly coloured scoring.
This Karajan recording is certainly one of my top five joining Reiner, Cluytens, Beecham and Maazel (Erato),
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2015
A pretty ropey recording. Poor quality. A good advert for only purchasing recordings from record labels you've heard of.
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on 25 August 2015
very nice
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