The Guardian, 12 September 2012
Tim Ashley
Bizet: Carmen – review

Simon Rattle's recording of Carmen was taped in Berlin in April, following a much-discussed series of performances at the Salzburg Easter festival. On disc as on stage, Rattle's wife, Magdalena Kožená, plays the title role, and much has been made of the marital dynamics of working together on an opera about independent female sexuality and obsessive male attitudes towards it. But the results are disappointing. Rattle conducts an elegant interpretation, supple if a bit overnuanced but notably lacking the dangerous eroticism of Karajan and the excitement of Beecham or Abbado in this work. Rattle opts for Fritz Oeser's contentious critical edition of the score – it contains music Bizet cut voluntarily before the premiere – but then, for some reason, dispenses with nearly all the dialogue. Kožená, meanwhile, is an intelligent Carmen, self-assured and self-determining, though you can't escape the facts that her voice sounds small and that the role, in places, is simply too low.

The main reason to listen to the set is Jonas Kaufmann's beautifully sung, wonderfully perceptive José. The glamour in his tone is perfect, and so too are the hints early on of the nervous moodiness that will gradually become pathological. The rest of the cast is variable. Kostas Smoriginas's Escamillo, charismatic if dim, contrasts well with Kaufmann's emotional wavering. There should be a lot more to Micaëla, however, than Genia Kühmeier's wordless gorgeousness.


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