Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 19, 2015
By Robert Croan
Record reviews: A tale of two 'Carmens'
Bizet: "Carmen," with Vesselina Kasarova and Jonas Kaufmann, Franz Welser-Most, cond. Zurich Opera, 2009

These newly released "Carmen" recordings illustrate the wide range of interpretations that this iconic opera can handle. From a light to a heavy approach, spoken dialogue vs. musical continuity, dramatic focus on the heroine or her anti-hero lover, these two performances, separated by 37 years, are only nominally the same opera.....
The Zurich production, filmed in 2009, uses the grand opera version and emphasizes the downfall of Don Jose, who, in Matthias Hartmann's updated staging, is an awkward, naive nerd. He squirms at Micaela's attempt to deliver a kiss from his mother, then falls for Carmen's charms, to his own calamity. Jonas Kaufmann is the Jose of this generation, caressing the ear with his burnished bronze timbre, portraying every gradation of the misguided Brigadier's awakening to passion and descent to madness. His "Flower Song" is something for the ages.

Vessellina Kasarova is a Carmen to be reckoned with: tough, unsubtle, physically riveting and vocally rock solid. She is surprisingly unsexy, however, even when she approaches dominatrix status by having Jose crawl at her feet, and she is never sympathetic, even in her last moments. Michele Pertusi sings "Votre toast" splendidly, although he's a little long in the tooth for a torero, while Franz Welser-Most conducts with bland competence, offering few new insights into this familiar score.


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