Aside from conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and playing stooge
to Rowan Atkinson at the Olympics, there’s the matter of Simon
Rattle’s recording contract. A longtime EMI Classics artist,
he’s currently working through a contract extension, signed in
2009, calling for 12 recordings to be issued within four years.
That’s roughly one every four months. No wonder the CDs he makes
are often derived from concert performances; no wonder the
repertoire is so various.
This time he’s landed on
Bizet’s Carmen, recorded in Berlin last year. just before a
stage run at the Salzburg Easter Festival. There’s much to
enjoy. Never an opera specialist, Rattle digs out details that
other maestros let slumber. The high-speed energy is infectious;
and the microphones keep the orchestral sound lovely.
theatrical flair and gypsy fire? Not so apparent. Nor are those
qualities uppermost with Rattle’s Carmen, Magdalena Kozená
(left, with Jonas Kaufmann). The conductor’s wife sings as usual
with emotional intelligence, but she never really suggests an
amoral, magnetic force strong enough to drive men potty.
At least there’s no miscasting with Kaufmann’s Don José.
His tenor isn’t as clean an instrument as it once was but his
emotional engagement in Act II’s flower song can’t be denied;
and he grips even further in the passion and anger of Act IV.
Kostas Smoriginas’s rather bald French reduces his effectiveness
as Escamillo, but the bullfighter remains a creature of flesh
and blood. Genia Kühmeier’s delightful Micaëla tops the rest of
How to sum up? Imperfect, lopsided, lacking a
printed libretto, Rattle’s set is not ideal if you want to enjoy
Carmen the opera: for that, I’d prefer Karajan’s 1983 account
with Baltsa and Carreras. Instead, Rattle offers Carmen the
gorgeous symphonic experience, with added voices: something much