Financial Times, August 17, 2012
By Andrew Clark
Bizet: Carmen

Recorded in April after concert and stage performances in Berlin and Salzburg, this studio recording of Bizet’s opera compels attention for a variety of reasons.

The cast is headlined by Jonas Kaufmann, the hottest tenor around today, and the performance is based on the original Opéra-Comique version with spoken dialogue, rather than the sung recitatives inserted after Bizet’s death, which are now standard practice. The set brings together the husband-and-wife team of Simon Rattle (conductor) and Magdalena Kozená (Carmen), both of whom stress their wish to return to the “chamber feeling” of the French tradition into which the work was born, rather than the “grand opera” tradition in which it is routinely draped.

That’s all very noble, but musicological correctness cannot mask the inauthentic aura shrouding the set. For all the intermittent beauty of the Berlin Philharmonic and the sweetness of Genia Kühmeier’s Micaëla, the performance never relaxes or charms – partly because of Rattle’s over-accented rhythms and partly because of the equally un-Gallic manners of an “international” cast, including Kostas Smoriginas’s gruff toreador. Kozená’s gypsy sounds too self-consciously well-behaved to be sexy – there’s no sense of threat or wilfulness, never mind seduction – and it’s only Kaufmann’s ultra-masculine, ultra-musical Don José that comes out with credit.

If you don’t already have this over-exposed masterpiece in your collection, I’d recommend the Solti version with Troyanos, Domingo, Van Dam and Te Kanawa (Decca) at full price, and then Plasson with Gheorghiu and Alagna (EMI) at half-price.


 back top