Fanfare, 26.1.2009
Bob Rose
Antonio Pappano: BIZET Carmen on DECCA
This performance took place at Covent Garden in December 2006. A reviewer of this DVD for BBC Music Magazine wrote, “This is a Carmen so overdressed, so busy and fussy that Bizet’s taunt lyrical drama is all but swamped by the business.” I totally agree, because this is one of those modern productions that is more concerned with the visual aspects of the work than the musical aspects. Escamillo makes his entrance in Lillas Pastia’s tavern on horseback, and sings the first verse of the Toreador song from the saddle. The children’s chorus members are dressed like ragamuffins; none of the costumes are elegant.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is visually attractive but vocally miscast. She has a light soprano, not the kind of mezzo-soprano that should sing Carmen. Jonas Kaufmann is the star of the show. He sings a beautiful Flower Song, but why he is forced to wear a curly wig and be dressed in rags in the last two acts is beyond me. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is a handsome Escamillo. He does have some trouble at the bottom of his range. Nora Ansellem, the only French singer in the cast among the principals, as Micaëla, gives a dull performance, visually attractive but vocally inadequate. Most notable in the minor roles are Matthew Rose as Zuniga and Jacques Imbrailo as Morales.

Antonio Pappano conducted well. I did not like the slow tempo for the Habanera, but otherwise he was sensitive. As Michael Kennedy in his review in Opera said, “Zambello’s production brought no surprises revelatory or disagreeable.” It simply lacked the elegance that the opera should have. The picture quality and sound are both excellent.

In my opinion, the best visual DVD recording of Carmen is the film version conducted by Herbert von Karajan, starring Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, Mirella Freni, and Justino Diaz on Deutsche Grammophon. All the singers are superior to those on this set; Vickers’s Flower Song is fantastic—even better sung than Kaufmann’s. The production has the elegance that this performance lacks. I do not feel that this DVD is recommendable.

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