Bizet: Carmen

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bizet
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Carmen
PERFORMER: Solange Michel, Martha Angelici, Raoul Jobin, Michel DensChorus & Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique/André Cluytens
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 5 65318 2 ADD monoReissue
Carmen exists as almost two different operas: the first, with spoken dialogue, is a gritty opéra comique; the second, with Guiraud’s recitatives, can invite a grander approach, a showcase for (sometimes inappropriate) singers. Schippers’s 1963 version, with Regina Resnik as Carmen, tends towards the latter. Resnik’s heavy, almost matronly mezzo renders the character vengeful and destructive. Mario del Monaco as José is vocally confident, but lacks subtlety, and Joan Sutherland, oddly cast as Micaela, sounds less than happy in French. However, Tom Krause makes a macho Escamillo and Yvonne Minton a sweet-voiced Mercedes. The recording is redeemed by Schippers’s ability to conjure up the crowd scenes: the orchestra is brash and furious in the large set-pieces and the chorus is properly rough and ready.

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Cluytens’s 1950 set derives from a production at the Opéra-Comique, the original home of Carmen. This was the first commercial recording to include the spoken dialogue and is appropriately hard-nosed and unsentimental – this is not Carmen as bel canto. Cluytens drives the opera along at often breakneck speeds, which casts a cool, even cynical, pall over the proceedings. Solange Michel is a mocking Carmen, tough and fluent, and the rest of the cast is similarly idiomatic. The subtleties that may be lost in the frenetic speeds are more than compensated for by the dramatic integrity in what is a most compelling performance. William Humphreys-Jones