Top positive review
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An exceptional package
on 13 December 2000
First a word on DVDs. Reviewing opera on DVD is not easy, with a CD there are several factors to consider, the quality of the singing, the orchestra, the conductor, and the quality of the recording. With DVD in addition you have to worry about the acting, the casting, costumes, the setting, lighting, choreography, synchronisation between video and sound and the quality of digital transfer With so many things to go wrong it easy to pick holes in any DVD offering, but that is not the point, opera on DVD is really a tremendous development. For years I struggled to read librettos, trying to follow the plot while listening to CDs or operas broadcast live from the Met, while at the same time keeping track of the words and my place in the English translation. It was not easy, I never really managed to gain a clear picture of the characters or the plot, missed out on many of the subtleties, and was never very clear as to exactly why the soprano was singing this particular aria at this particular time. With DVDs all has changed, it is like a live performance with surtitles, you can see the drama read the words on screen and link it all to the music, wonderful. In future I will buy two version of my favorite operas, one on DVD to learn the opera and the second on CD to enjoy the recording of pre video-era stars.
One word on the sound quality, currently this is really limited by the DVD player, all DVDs contain a sound track that is uncompressed and of higher quality than CD, however as far as I can see at present (Dec 2000) apart from a few high end exotica there is not a DVD player in the world capable of reproducing the sound on DVD disks at even CD quality. Hopefully this will change soon, but rest assured that the sound quality of the disk you buy today will suffice for a very long time into the future, whatever happens on the technology front. One caveat is the possibility that multichannel surround sound will take off, which may mean some current disks will be limited, but personally I doubt it will ever happen.
So to Rosi's Carmen, best described as an opera shot on location, the scenery is lovely the drama all the more realistic. A video of an opera house production is often disappointing in the scenery department, what may appear realistic from a seat in the circle, may look faintly ridiculous to the camera's analytical eye; this opera completely avoid the problem. On small criticism is that the company sometimes acts as if they were still constrained by a small stage, one example is where the soldier chorus all take one step forward as they start singing, very unnatural and a bit jarring mainly because the opera looks like a film and hence we expect high quality acting. Julia Migenes is Carmen, she trained for the role for months and for me is perfect in looks and voice. Placido Domingo's singing is terrific as usual even if his acting is bit stiff, on the other hand Spaniards are reserved and Spanish soldiers quite formal and so his approach is probably correct, if severely contrasted to Carmen's liberated lifestyle. Faith Esham's role as Micaela is beautifully sung if self-consciously acted, Ruggero Raimondi is totally convincing as Escamillo.
The playing of Orchestre National de France under Lorin Maazel is excellent. Sound and video quality are first class, for me the whole package is exceptional.
One note: The introduction contains a grim bullfight scene, even though I have seen several on Spanish TV on the DVD it was very clear, bloody and heartbreaking, I know it is integral to the plot but skip to the next scene.