Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Georges BIZET
Carmen (complete opera)
Victoria de los Angeles (Carmen), Nicolai Gedda (Don Jose), Janine Micheau Micaela) Ernest Blanc (Escamillo), Denise Monteil (Frascita), Marcelle Croisier & Monique Vinval (Mercedes), Jean-Christophe Benoit (Le Dancaire), Michel Hamel (Le Remendado) Bernard Plantley (Morales) and Xavier Depraz (Zuniga)Petits Chanteurs de Versailles, Choeurs, Maitrise
L'Orchestre Nationale de la Radiodiffusion Francais - Sir Thomas Beecham
recorded June and September 1956 and September and October 1959 at La Salle Pleyel, Paris.
EMI Great Recordings of the Century CMS567357 2 - 3 CDs [161.32] ADD

Here it is, back at last. For some this recording is the definitive Carmen, now reissued by EMI in its Great Recordings of the Century. Some releases in this series have been questioned by some as to their inclusion in this series, but with this issue, there is no cause for complaint. Apart from the recording quality not being in the highest league, compared with more recent recordings, this set brims over with energy, seductivenesss, life and more than compensates for any slight shortcomings in the sound.

Added to this, apart from Victoria de los Angeles, the whole of the cast is made up of native French singers who react to and against each other with perfection. Allied to this, Beecham works his accustomed magic throughout a work which he loved to the core. The French National Radio Orchestra, never in the first league of orchestras, perform as though their lives depended upon it.

You may have gathered by now that I liked this issue.

Beecham chose Victoria de los Angeles as his Carmen, after originally having chosen the young Swedish singer, Kersten Meyer. His apprehension with de los Angeles may have been due to her voice being a little high for the part. He had worked with her before in their celebrated recording of La Boheme again for EMI. This success has been repeated here and her performance is one of the joys of recorded opera.

EMI was at first not sure of who to use for their first stereo recording of Carmen, originally having planned a recording with Karajan and Callas, and using Walter Legge as producer. Karajan and Callas, having fallen out over her demands for high level fees at the Vienna State Opera, left the way open for the rival version produced by that veteran master, Victor Olof. He used a totally French cast (the two principals apart), chorus and orchestra, together with the conductor who loved and had made a reputation as being perhaps the most famous in the performance of French music, with an unrivalled experience in opera.

You will see that two artists are singing Mercedes - this is due to the fact that the first, Marcelle Crosier had died between the two sessions, and rather that record the parts over again, these were completed by the second singer.

We also have the recitatives sung rather than spoken, a feature which I find a much more satisfactory solution to the problem.

The recording, whilst never a drawback has been freshened up over previous issues, and I cannot recommend this issue highly enough. Wonderful!!!

John Phillips

Reviews from previous months

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