Carmen must instill hope in the bosom of many a frustrated
composer. Bizet's opera was a resounding flop at its 1875
premiere but would soon attain the sort of wide-sweeping
popularity that even united arch-rivals Brahms and Wagner in
their admiration for it.
EMI's handsome new recording,
housed in a hard-covered 60-page booklet, is a starry occasion,
fresh from performances at this year's Salzburg Festival.
Magdalena Kozena and Jonas Kaufmann head the cast, with
Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
first burst of Prelude, one is increasingly incredulous that
Carmen was not always a runaway success. Yet the piece is much
more than just a string of hits; Rattle and his orchestra
constantly remind us of Bizet's persuasive palette, right down
to the humblest entr'acte.
Dash, swagger and
voluptuousness are all here, but Rattle lavishes just as much
affection on an understated string quartet snatch of The
Toreador's Song in the third act Finale.
Kozena, just months after her and Rattle's excellent Deutsche
Grammophon CD, Love and Longing, works hard to catch a character
she has described as a female Don Giovanni.
mezzo has no worries with twisting Bizet to her own ends, and
her seguidillas is perhaps even more beguiling because of it.
She can snarl, but she also has an effective line in cool,
although one does miss a sense of Mediterranean passion.
Those who have thrilled to Jonas Kaufmann singing Mahler and
verismo will not be disappointed with his noble Don Jose. If
your affections have lain with Roberto Alagna's hero in EMI's
2003 set, then be prepared to shift loyalties.
Genia Kuhmeier invests Micaela with an inner strength that
eludes some sopranos but Kostas Smoriginas's Toreador is a
let-down; a charisma-free zone that has one wondering why the
Berlin State Opera chorus is rallying so enthusiastically behind
Aficionados may appreciate Rattle choosing the
controversial 1964 edition of the opera, with its reinstated
music and crucial spoken dialogue. The latter, however well
done, can seem intrusive in an operatic context and perhaps even
more so on disc.
Verdict: Despite uneven
casting, a Bizet classic benefits from Berlin's orchestral