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01 October 2005


By Georges Bizet

Libretto: Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy, based on the novel by Prosper Mérimée

Performers: Plácido Domingo (Don José), Montserrat Caballé (Carmen), José van Dam (Escamillo), and Kiri Te Kanawa (Micaëla); Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1976

Want to know the plot? Click here.

Who knew how much of Carmen I'd heard before? This score has Bugs Bunny written all over it. Never heard of "Act 1: Prelude"? Or "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle"? Yes you have - believe me. Even Juliette recognized the later from when Sesame Street borrowed the melody and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves sang a version of it to Elmo as a lullaby. Classic.

The French language took some getting used to, as did the spoken conversational portions, because the other operas I've listened to have all been in Italian and used recitative instead of dialogue. I also noticed the rhymes more easily in French. The seemed more deliberate, like rhymes in English, whereas the Italian language lends itself to more fluid, continuous, and less obvious rhymes.

Carmen is a BIG opera. Whereas Tosca is a steam-lined slasher film by comparison, Carmen lingers with building psychological tension. Huge choral numbers and solos from minor characters fill the hefty four acts with significant delays to the essential Carmen/Don José obsession plot. I could not decide if these fat asides were annoying clutter or successful delays to increase the level of suspense. I think that in person, viewing the spectical of a full-scale production, the latter would be the case. But in listening on my headphones, I felt like a kid sitting fixed before a grand old radio just waiting for the next exciting scene. Written only for listening, it would have been a different opera - once again reinforcing the idea that operas should be seen, not just heard.

As for the performance itself, I would like to hear Carmen played by someone other than Caballé. She is really a soprano, and this mezzo-soprano role is a little too sultry and throaty. I love Caballé's high notes - when she reaches those places you don't think anyone can go - and in this role, that amazing capacity was quite limited. But it was great hearing her and Placido speaking French. The amount of work it takes to be an opera star is just amazing!

I'm taking a break from opera for a while, with my next foray being a live performance of Tosca in November. Yay!

Blogger Daniel said...

Nice review! Have you tried the Beecham recording?

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Nope - this is my first listen.

Blogger Diva Kitty's Mom said...

Pesky sopranos, they have to be in everything… This role does truly need a good mezzo.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

I read that Fiorenza Cossotto did a good Carmen, but I can't find a recording in my library system. Any recs?

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