> BIZET Carmen excpts Bumbry CDE5749552 [CF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen (highlights)
Carmen - Grace Bumbry (mezzo soprano)
Don Jose - Jon Vickers (tenor)
Michaela - Mirella Freni (soprano)
Escamillo - Kostas Paskalis (baritone)
Frasquita - Eliane Lublin (soprano)
Mercedes - Viorica Cortez (mezzo soprano)
Morales - Claude Meloni (baritone)
Zuniga - Bernard Gontcharenko (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris Opera
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (conductor)
Recorded in the Salle Wagram, Paris, July and September 1969, January and February 1970
EMI CLASSICS CDE5 74955 2 [76.11]

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This is about as good as it gets when it comes to a line-up of a cast for Carmen, even a Spanish-ish conductor and he gets a good head of steam going in the prelude with later delightful solo orchestral entríactes to give the fine orchestra a chance to parade their fine principal players. As Carmen, Bumbry is (was) amazing, sexy, seductive, human, vicious, tempestuous - mind you by the end of the opera and with the likes of that wet blanket Don Jose around her itís no wonder that she goes through the whole kaleidoscope of human emotion. Bumbry does not have that chest voice you love to hate when Callas is in full cry, the voice is much more beautiful, and she does not really manage the quick notes in the Gypsy Song. However she and de Burgos whip it all up into a fantastic fury, castanets purring along like demented woodpeckers.

Iíve never been a huge fan of Jon Vickers, it all sounds such a huge effort, but his duet with the deliciously creamy Freni as Michaela (whose third act aria is beautiful) is really special, and the end of the so-called Flower Song with its sublimely floated top B flat (Bizet marks the climb up there with a diminuendo) instead of the more common scream, is a credit to this great tenor.

Paskalis as the Toreador has all the vocal virility required for the part from his first entry, and you believe in him, a credit to his fabulous diction too. This Carmen was recorded about the time I encountered him (1971/72) when he came to us at Glyndebourne to sing Macbeth in Verdiís opera, and a fine singer he was, with tremendous stage presence. The three ĎLíamourís at the end of the Toreadorís song culminating in Bumbryís contribution which sounds as if she could have this bullfighter in a paella without it touching the sides, is a brilliant coup de théâtre. In the card trio Lublin and Cortez characterise their roles to the full, getting their pennyworth in before Bumbry completely overshadows them with her aria culminating in those wonderful death-laden cries of "La mort". Not much of the chorusís music is featured here. The boy soldiers have (and seize) their Act I moment, the rest (not the best music from this wonderful opera) is the scene-setting opening of Act IV outside the bullring, then, after Carmenís death scene (with no scream here though). There is a gripping build-up from the spiteful rejection by Carmen of the ever-growing, desperately pleading Jose. Compulsive listening as the venom flies between them, but great though all the singers are, for my money, the orchestra shines as much as they do (listen to those unforgettable saxophone-like sounds of the literally French horns complete wide vibrato in Freniís aria). This is one of de Burgosís best performances, excelling even the likes of Karajan and Georges Prêtre.

Iím not very keen on bleeding chunks of operatic excerpts (and EMI do others in this "encore" series such as Mozartís Magic Flute and Marriage of Figaro, Verdiís Aida and Traviata, and Rossiniís Barber of Seville), but this Carmen is an exception. If you havenít got, and don't want to buy, the whole opera, this will more than suffice.

Christopher Fifield


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