Simon Rattle's recording of Carmen was taped in Berlin in
April, following a much-discussed series of performances at the
Salzburg Easter festival. On disc as on stage, Rattle's wife,
Magdalena Kožená, plays the title role, and much has been made
of the marital dynamics of working together on an opera about
independent female sexuality and obsessive male attitudes
towards it. But the results are disappointing. Rattle conducts
an elegant interpretation, supple if a bit overnuanced but
notably lacking the dangerous eroticism of Karajan and the
excitement of Beecham or Abbado in this work. Rattle opts for
Fritz Oeser's contentious critical edition of the score – it
contains music Bizet cut voluntarily before the premiere – but
then, for some reason, dispenses with nearly all the dialogue.
Kožená, meanwhile, is an intelligent Carmen, self-assured and
self-determining, though you can't escape the facts that her
voice sounds small and that the role, in places, is simply too
The main reason to listen to the set is
Jonas Kaufmann's beautifully sung, wonderfully perceptive José.
The glamour in his tone is perfect, and so too are the hints
early on of the nervous moodiness that will gradually become
pathological. The rest of the cast is variable. Kostas
Smoriginas's Escamillo, charismatic if dim, contrasts well with
Kaufmann's emotional wavering. There should be a lot more to
Micaëla, however, than Genia Kühmeier's wordless gorgeousness.