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
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