PERFORMER: Irina Arkhipova, Mario Del Monaco, Irina Maslennikova, Pavel Lisitsian, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra & Chorus/Alexander Melik-Pashaev
CATALOGUE NO: RV 20001 ADD mono
The overall excellence of the Kirov over the past few years has tended to eclipse traditional preconceptions of the Russian sound: silvery, sometimes squally sopranos; rasping, throaty mezzos; and magnificent basses. This Carmen, recorded at the Bolshoi in 1959, has all those attributes and is bizarrely Russian in atmosphere: Bizet really is made to sound like Tchaikovsky, and the dance rhythms acquire an unusually Slavonic flavour.
But Carmen is an opera that is virtually indestructible and offers a role that lends itself to idiosyncratic styles (witness the enduring appeal of Supervia, then Callas, even Marilyn Horne on the soundtrack of Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones). Irina Arkhipova had a rich, dramatic mezzo and compelling if stolid presence, but she is not a natural Carmen, and there is nothing alluring or dangerous about her. She is partnered by Mario Del Monaco, another legendary singer, with a thrillingly powerful voice. But the gulf between them is unbridgeable, not least because she sings in Russian, he in Italian, occasionally lapsing into French, and there is no chemistry.
The result is a performance that is unexpectedly easy on the ear, the thin orchestral sound and terrible stage thumps notwithstanding, but contains little drama and even less tragedy. Claire Wrathall