Otago Daily Times, 15 September 2012
By Geoff Adams
Bizet: Carmen. Magdalena Kozena (soprano), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), etc. Berlin Philharmoniker.

A studio recording, not a stage performance, marks the 10th anniversary of the artistic "dream-team" partnership of Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Sir Simon's wife, Kozena (a real Lady as leading lady), sings Carmen with tenor Kaufmann, another at the top of the excellent cast.

Carmen is the most frequently performed opera in the world today, yet its premiere in March 1875 at the Paris Opera-Comique seemed a failure, and composer Bizet died three months later, aged only 36.

A ballet was inserted later and Carmen became the most popular ballet in Europe within five years. Rattle has returned to the original opera-comique version with music interspersed with spoken dialogue, and shows its merits with triumphant ease.

The production goes back to the original chamber music feeling of the opera - not touting it as "grand" opera.

Kozena does not need the heavy voice so often heard from Carmens and by prima donnas in big Italian operas. But she does embody the sexy cigarette girl and femme fatale very beautifully, without unnecessary cliches. Yet Kaufmann's Don Jose, in power and artistry, steals the show.

Even the minor roles were convincing and the chorus and children's "urchins' chorus" also great. Brisk tempos work well.

The advantage of this studio recording (compared with recorded stage productions in a theatre) is the sheer, detailed beauty of thrilling sounds - gorgeous voices, clashing cymbals, deep tones from string basses ... Only grumble: no libretto and translation in the booklet. To decode the French, listeners must go to Simon Rattle's website.

Highlight: Glistening clarity of orchestral and vocal sound.


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