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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Opera Explained
An Introduction to … Bizet’s CARMEN

Narrator: David Timson
Carmen: Graciela Alperyn
Don Jose: Giorgio Lamberti
Escamillo: Alan Titus
Michaela: Doina Palade
Slovak Philharmonic Chorus
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
NAXOS 8.558010 [65:54]


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This CD serves as an "introduction to opera". It is one in a series of three that also includes Puccini’s La Bohème and Rossini’s The Barber Of Seville. These operas are presented as the ABCs of opera: some of the most popular and well-known in the operatic repertoire.

Each CD makes note of that fact, linking together the collection by three commonalties:

The operas are popular, performances are still held to this day, and the average non-opera goer can whistle at least one "tune" from each. (Although the CD credits that more to the Warner Brothers cartoon factory of the 1930s and 1940s in America and modern marketing than any new-found opera goers)

The introductory segments give a brief overview of the composer’s life, a brief snippet from the more well-known works … and it’s off to the races, with an explanation of major themes, plot and various scenes using clips from arias, overtures, and incidental music to play up the plot points.

The narration digs deeply into the psychology of the piece, interpreting the libretto and music with a modern attitude towards sexuality and relationships – the characters’ actions have been filtered through the lens of "an overwhelming passion". This gives Don Jose less of the whipped dog caricature as he is sometimes played, and more depth - a man driven by love, desire and other complex emotions he is unable to comprehend.

Michaela also is given a core of stronger stuff – a "stand by your man" type of gal who can face great odds to bring the man she loves back to where he belongs – in the bosom of his family, and to the homeland he loves.

All this psychological drama sets up the grand character sketch of Carmen – no hip-swinging, cigarette waving tramp here, but a woman who is confused, lonely and deeply feeling underneath an exterior of tough-broad antics.

Escamillo, the bandits, and the gypsy women are described in much the same way, and probably given more of an identity than they inhabit in the actual piece – the narrator does give Escamillo an extended description as a woman-hating, dismissive misogynist

And this, dear readers, was just the plot narrative. The narrator intersperses all this drama with well-explained introductions to musical themes, voice types and characterisations in this opera. Each voice type is demonstrated by a snippet of aria, recitative is tackled without difficulty, and the listener is walked through the more common themes that are assigned to each character and to each act of the opera. All this in a narration that is humorous in tone and delivery, without compromising the more serious elements present in the piece.

The sound quality of the CD suffers somewhat in the balance between the narrator and the musical selections. Each musical selection fades in gradually, sounding flat and compressed. That being said, the singers are by no means second–rate, and the entire opera is available for purchase - information on the release and catalogue # are given in the liner notes.

This set of CDs attempts and succeeds very well in its mission to introduce a newcomer to the experience of opera. This CD would serve well as a classroom aid for any teacher of music history, or for the neophyte to opera who may be attending their first performance and wants to know "what its all about". The seasoned listener may find the plot interpretation interesting, but the musical selections themselves are much too truncated to provide a quality listening experience of either the singers or orchestra.

Kelly A Rinne


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