2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Grand opera Carmen,
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
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.