intended Carmen to be an opera, but had to include
spoken dialogue to enable it to be performed at the only Paris
theatre available to him – The Opéra-comique. He intended
to produce a version substituting recitative for the dialogue;
this would enable it to be performed at the Paris Opéra and
other traditional opera theatres. Unfortunately he died before
he could do this, but his friend Ernest Guiraud did this after
his death. Carmen became very popular worldwide originally
using the sung version. However, in the quest for “authenticity”
most modern performances use the spoken dialogue and also
restore cuts that had been approved by the composer; this
is the case with this performance which is noticeably longer
than the edition that I grew up with. In my opinion this is
not to its advantage.
The original theatre,
the Opéra-comique was relatively small and thus a performance
at Glydnebourne is very appropriate. Peter Hall has produced
a setting that is based upon the original setting in Spain
in the middle of the 19th century; the production is to be
commended for its emphasis on realism and drama. The costumes
look authentic and the production is well lit.
For any performance
of Carmen, the singer taking the title role is all-important
as she must not only be a fine singer but also have the necessary
acting ability and personality to project herself as a femme
fatale. In pre-war days, Conchita Supervia was considered
by many to be the ideal Carmen. In more recent years, Maria
Callas gave some brilliant performances and it is tragic that
her performance is not available on DVD. Here it must be said
that Marie Ewing is quite outstanding. With her long face
and big sensual lips, she is not conventionally good looking
but when she is on stage she dominates and you find it hard
to take your eyes off her. She sings the part well, but is
also an outstanding actress. No one could fail to understand
how Don José would give up everything to be with her.
Barry McCauley is a good choice for the
part of Don José, he is an American tenor with a good voice,
however he fails to project much character and it seems strange
that Carmen should fall for him. David Holloway as Escamillo
has a fine voice and a fine swagger to go with it – a good
choice as the toreador. Marie McLaughlin sings well as Don
José’s soppy childhood girl-friend but the part is one that
it is almost impossible to make much impression with. All
the minor characters sing and act well. From a staging point
of view it is an almost perfect production.
The other ingredient
for a perfect Carmen is the conductor. Sir Thomas Beecham
is unsurpassed in this repertoire and his recordings still
sound very well despite their age. Another conductor who gets
under the skin of Carmen is Herbert von Karajan whose
recording is very good from an orchestral viewpoint. Here,
the LPO play well under Haitink who catches the Spanish idiom
of the dances and the light delicacy of much of the music.
However Haitink tends to underplay the dramatic moments that
fail to thrill – this is most obvious in the last act that
in the right hands can be searing with tragedy.
The DVD is well
presented and looks and sounds well. It is however a pity
that to save money, the notes are printed on the rear of main
label and thus have to be read through the plastic sleeve.
A separate booklet would be much more user-friendly.