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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen, Opera in 4 Acts (1875)
Choudens Edition with spoken dialogue
Bétrice Uria-Monzon (Carmen), Christian Papis (Don José), Vincent le Texier (Escamillo), Leontina Vaduva (Micaëla), Maryse Castets (Frasquita), Martine Olmeda (Mercédès), Lionel Sarrazin (Zúñiga), Olivier Lallouette (Moralès), Franck Leguérinel (la dancaïre), Therry Trégan (le remendado), Paul Renard (Lillas Pastias), Choeur des Enfants du C.N.R.de Bordeaux, Choeur du Grand-Théâtre de Bordeaux,
Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine/Alain Lombard
Recorded July 1994, Grand-Théâtre de Bordeaux
NAÏVE V 4964 [2 CDs: 71:37+70:11]


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A fairly substantial booklet gives us, in English and French, an introduction, synopsis and full libretto of Carmen. In view of the fact that the recording evidently aims to promote the work of the Grand-Théâtre de Bordeaux (several important local firms helped fund the enterprise) it would have been nice to have some information about the production on which the recording was based, and about those involved. Obviously the conductor is no stranger to record-buyers but I must confess that, of the singers, the only name not new to me was that of Franck Leguérinel, of whom I once reviewed a promising recital disc (made in 1992) and who sings here (very well) the small role of le Dancaïre. However, in the case of Leontina Vaduva, Romanian-born though long based in France, perhaps I should be ashamed of my ignorance since I find she has made a much-praised recital disc for EMI, issued in 1999, conducted by Placido Domingo.

It would be a pleasure to be able to say that this virtually all-French Carmen shows that the French tradition, swallowed up by internationalism in Paris, is alive and well in the provinces, but it doesn’t really. Alain Lombard’s approach to the score is more classical than particularly French, almost Mozartian in its clarity and balance. This does not preclude vitality – the opening of Act IV has considerable fizz – but the prevalence of gentle, pastoral orchestral colours means that the music increasingly seems to have little to do with the passionate drama which is unfolding. I have heard Carmen conducted in a number of ways but I don’t remember any interpretation that made me think this.

Rather than an interpretation in the French tradition, Christian Papis seems to want to give us a full-throated Don José in the Franco Corelli mould. If only he had the voice! Some of his high notes are clear and ringing but many are strained and there is little attempt at characterisation. I have no idea of Vincent le Texier’s age but he sounds frail, wavery and hoarse. There are some roles in which diminishing vocal equipment may be turned to artistic use but Escamillo is surely not one of them. A toreador too doddery to take on his top notes, let alone an averagely healthy bull, would hardly offer much in the way of attraction to a sharp customer like Carmen. His exchanges with Leguérinel’s firmly focused baritone are embarrassing and I wish the casting had been reversed.

Fairness compels me to point out that I made an Internet search after writing the above and find that since making these records le Texier has been praised in France and Germany for his performances of Wozzeck (1997), Scarpia (1999) and Golaud (2000/2001). A French critic, writing of this last, spoke of his "voix superbe et claire". I’m afraid I just can’t begin to square this with what I hear on the present recording.

Vaduva is rich-toned if sometimes squally as Micaëla – a rather heavier voice than is usually used and perhaps insufficiently differentiated from Carmen. Béatrice Uria-Monzon has a website, designed by her painter father, which is worth a visit for its own sake. Carmen has remained one of her particular specialities and I am prepared to believe it has by now developed into quite a performance. She has a rich mezzo timbre with a fairly wide but controlled vibrato on the higher notes. She is notably effective in her speaking lines and I suggest that, given space, she could have provided a more effectively sultry Carmen than the conductor was prepared to allow.

All in all, no challenge to the established versions.

Christopher Howell

 



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