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--Standard Repertory--

By Georges Bizet

Bizet's perennial favorite was originally written as an opéra comique alternating
song and dialogue. Only after its 1875 premiere did Guiraud set the dialogue to
sung recitative. The Guiraud revision became the traditionally performed
version until very recently. Today, the original is occasionally performed, and
there have even been a few effective recordings of Bizet's original with the
dialogue. These recordings are sometimes not so satisfying as some of the
classic sets featuring the very greatest artists, despite the keener
effectiveness and elan of the restored original version.

VIDEO: A) Opulently sung video featuring Grace Bumbry and Jon Vickers, with Mirella Freni and Justino Diaz as Micaela and the toreador Escamillo; Herbert von Karajan conducts, based on Salzburg Festival production (1967) [G.R.]

B) Francesco Rosi dir.; Julia Migenes-Johnson, Placido Domingo, Ruggero Raimondi, Maazel conducting; 1984; Columbia Tri-Star 60487 A more thoroughly cinematic treatment of a respectably, but not opulently, sung production; stars Julia Migenes-Johnson and Placido Domingo. [G.R.]

AUDIO: A) EMI (the top pick of three EMI winners in this opera): Victoria De Los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Beecham conducting; traditional non-authorial version with the added Guiraud recits -- but Beecham's crisp, stylish leadership in French repertoire trumps the competition here as ever and inspires a worthy lineup of principals; Stereo. [G.R.]

B) EMI: Solange Michel, Raoul Jobin, Cluytens conducting (1950); best attempt at Bizet's original; no Guiraud at all, and with most of the dialogue restored; did not use quite so accurate an edition as the later F-2 below; this is, at the same time, a far more assured and consistent performance, making a much more idiomatic case than F-2 for the composer's original structure of alternating song with dialogue, almost matching the authenticity of D below, but in far superior sound; however, with all its spontaneity and natural aplomb, this, like D, cannot boast the same degree of vocal riches as in F-2; Mono [G.R.]

C) EMI: Maria Callas, Nicolai Gedda, Pretre conducting; with splendid assurance, biting command of the French, and surprising vocal ease (1964!), Callas gives the most riveting and satisfying interpretation of the title role on disc; Gedda is not in such good voice as with Beecham, and there are not quite the same compensations here for the cumbersome Guiraud recits that there are under Beecham in A, although every one of Callas's (French) colleagues offers an authentically idiomatic reading; Stereo [G.R.]

D) MARSTON: Marguerite Mérentié, Agustarello Affre, Ruhlmann conducting (early acoustic recording, 1911); not only is this the first recording in the original French, it is the only one before Cluytens (B) to use the original dialogue in place of the traditional Guiraud recits; stylistically and historically, it is an indispensable set, as close to the horse's mouth as Bizet himself might have hoped; its acoustic sound (an early recording process using a special horn rather than the familiar electronic microphone) is strictly primitive; but, as usual, this excellent transfer by soundmeister Ward Marston has rendered this ancient artifact fairly listenable; one can both learn from this set and enjoy it; fair Mono [G.R.]

E) RCA: Rise Stevens, Jan Peerce, Reiner conducting; nowhere near as idiomatic a performance as the top four, this is still one of the most star-studded sets available (Robert Merrill and Licia Albanese in the supporting roles); even though Reiner doesn't give us the Gallic touch and doesn't appear to encourage it in others, this is still a performance with rare conviction throughout from well-established principals who could easily have coasted through their parts but, to their credit, opted for much more; Mono [G.R.]

F-1) METROPOLITAN OPERA GUILD [for a King's ransom]: Rosa Ponselle, René Maison, Papi conducting ("live," Met, 1937); the most overwhelming interpretation of the title role anywhere: Carmen as more a force of nature (of doom?) than an irresistible temptress; sung this way, poor José's fascination comes off almost as a death wish; far from the ideal way of reading this opera, but unforgettable and persuasive all the same -- Ponselle's looming vocal opulence swallows everything in its path; fair Mono [G.R.]

F-2) EMI: Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, de Burgos conducting; most faithful to Bizet's original of all available recordings; Vickers' Don Jose unsurpassed, but while overall cast boasts superb voices, it is not so smart and sure as the lineup in either B or D; Stereo [G.R.]

G) DECCA/LONDON: Regina Resnik, Mario del Monaco, Schippers conducting; Resnik's is one of the most magnetic recorded interpretations on disc, but her admittedly distinguished colleagues are utterly out of their depth here; Stereo [G.R.]

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This Page Last Revised 9/24/99 | Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Geoffrey Riggs
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