Recorded in April after concert and stage performances in
Berlin and Salzburg, this studio recording of Bizet’s opera
compels attention for a variety of reasons.
The cast is
headlined by Jonas Kaufmann, the hottest tenor around today, and
the performance is based on the original Opéra-Comique version
with spoken dialogue, rather than the sung recitatives inserted
after Bizet’s death, which are now standard practice. The set
brings together the husband-and-wife team of Simon Rattle
(conductor) and Magdalena Kozená (Carmen), both of whom stress
their wish to return to the “chamber feeling” of the French
tradition into which the work was born, rather than the “grand
opera” tradition in which it is routinely draped.
all very noble, but musicological correctness cannot mask the
inauthentic aura shrouding the set. For all the intermittent
beauty of the Berlin Philharmonic and the sweetness of Genia
Kühmeier’s Micaëla, the performance never relaxes or charms –
partly because of Rattle’s over-accented rhythms and partly
because of the equally un-Gallic manners of an “international”
cast, including Kostas Smoriginas’s gruff toreador.
Kozená’s gypsy sounds too self-consciously well-behaved to be
sexy – there’s no sense of threat or wilfulness, never mind
seduction – and it’s only Kaufmann’s ultra-masculine,
ultra-musical Don José that comes out with credit.
If you don’t already have this over-exposed masterpiece in
your collection, I’d recommend the Solti version with Troyanos,
Domingo, Van Dam and Te Kanawa (Decca) at full price, and then
Plasson with Gheorghiu and Alagna (EMI) at half-price.