I sympathise with those who want their Carmen quintessentially French, more in the Opera Comique tradition, with lighter voices, perfect accents and generally more Parisian than Viennese, but this recording provides such a complete dramatic experience that for me, it leaves all the others - and there are an awful lot of them! - in the dust. The only other recording I enjoy as much is even more unauthentic: the beautifully sung, hugely dramatic Karajan reading with Corelli (French worse than Domingo's and without the excuse of at least sounding a bit Spanish), Price (smokey, alluring but very grand) and Merrill (vocalising marvellously without bothering much about characterisation details). You don't have to have seen the film to appreciate this Maazel account but it happens to be one of the very best visual realisations of any opera. Migenes Johnson re-trained her voice to acquire plenty of gutsy chest register without losing the delicacy of her top and she delivers that famous music with some lovely portamenti - not at all vulgar, in my opinion, just properly in character. When all is said and done, Carmen IS a bit of a slut - but a brave and likeable one! I get fed up with already outdated interpretative wisdom that she is, underneath it all something of a lady and should be sung with Gallic understatement; for me, Berganza simply underplays the role while Migenes Johnson gets it right. Domingo sings his best Jose on record; powerful, with a rapid vibrato and some easy, plangent top notes. The surprise for me was Raimondi's Escamillo; I agree with another reviewer that it is the best on disc and the voice sounds truly baritonal - which perhaps explains why I have sometimes found his timbre too light for some of the true bass roles he has undertaken. Maazel's direction is masterly; all the tempi are beautifully judged and the authentic French orchestra, chorus and secondary roles are a delight to the ears. My only slight disappointment is encountered in Esham's Micaela; she sings neatly and expressively but the fundamental tone is thin; I miss the beauty of Te Kanawa's sound in this role. Still, that doesn't really spoil the set; you won't find a better.
on 29 March 2015
I bought this after this recording was voted the finest 'Carmen' on Radio 3's Building a Library feature. It is easy to see why. This is a sparkling recording. The pace is swift and the orchestra and chorus wonderfully fresh, light and bouyant - it doesn't drag for a moment and the sound quality is so vibrant.
But the crowning glory is a Carmen to die for - the luscious seductive tones of Julia Migenes cannot be bettered - this is a voice tailor made for this role. It is a simply stunning vocal performance, incredibly nuanced and detailed and completely devoid of the matronly heft and overly wide vibrato which infects many performances. I have never heard the role sung with such total immersion in the character. A staggering achievement.
Domingo is at his best (this was 1984) and of the four principals only the Michaela of Faith Esham marginally disappoints with her slightly shrill tone and disconcerting vibrato. But her Act 1 duet with Domingo still sounds gorgeous.
Some listeners might be nonplussed by all the spoken dialogue. But this is the original version with the dialogue intact before the recitatives were later added by Bizet's friend Ernest Guiraud. Hence, this is a more authentic Carmen than many recordings. Also, it simply oozes Mediterranean colour and energy and the sound effects create a total dramatic listening experience.
Overall, this is a magnificent 'Carmen' and you really needn't look further.