Philippe Jordan drives the opening Prelude to this Carmen like a Ferrari roaring out of pole position. You smell burnt rubber long before we reach the ramparts of Seville. The London Philharmonic Orchestra play Bizet’s score as if the ink were scarcely dry on the autograph manuscript. For once you hear the triangle in the Habanera; there’s exactly the right mocking edge in the violin solo that introduces Carmen’s ‘Tra, la, la, coupe-moi, brûle-moi’; and the flute in the Entr’acte that introduces Act III is as good as any on CD.
It’s excellent, too, to hear a production that abandons the accompanied recitatives in favour of the original opéra comique spoken dialogue. Without this dialogue, as Rodney Milnes observes in his incisive CD-booklet essay, much of the subtlety of the plot by a pair of master librettists is lost, as is the often miraculous way in which the music seems to grow out of the words.
But Carmen needs singers who can sing and act and that’s the problem. Mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter is more an erring lady than a gypsy. She does her best, which in the Habanera and the fortune-telling trio is good. But frankly she lacks fire. Tenor Marcus Haddock is a disappointingly coarse Don José and soprano Lisa Milne seems uncomfortable when she opens up as Micaëla. Only baritone Laurent Naouri’s Escamillo really passes muster. This is a live recording and there’s a good deal of stage noise – were the children’s chorus dismantling the set in Act I? And expect some curious French accents from a predominantly British cast and chorus.