Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
Carmen (1875)
Franco Corelli (tenor) – Don José; Giulietta Simionato (mezzo) – Carmen; Mirella Freni (soprano) – Micaela; Giangiacomo Guelfi (baritone) – Escamillo; Norma Palmieri (soprano) – Mercedes; Loretta Di Lello (soprano) – Frasquita; Renato Ercolani (tenor) – Il Dancairo; Guido Malfatti (baritone) – Il Remendado; Enzo Viario (bass) – Zuniga; Mario Rossetti (tenor) – Morales
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo di Palermo/Pierre Dervaux
rec. live, Teatro Massimo di Palermo, 8 February 1959. ADD

This issue can hardly have any claims to being a library version. It is recorded live in rather primitive sound and sung in Italian. With wiry strings and a booming bass that in several instances drenches what subtleties there are in the orchestral playing, the prerequisites for an enjoyable evening in the listening room seem fairly low. Add to this an enthusiastic but hardly sophisticated chorus and a multitude of stage noises and things do not improve.

On the credit side, however, we must put down the conducting by Pierre Dervaux: fresh but not rushed in the prelude and drawing beautiful playing from the orchestra in the entr’actes. In the last act he also includes some ballet music not usually heard in performances - it is played with gusto, verging on frenzy.

The solo singing is variable but there is a more than acceptable Morales and Enzo Viario as Zuniga is dramatically convincing in the second act.

Of the four main characters Giangiacomo Guelfi’s Escamillo is strong-voiced but rather plain in The Toreador Song. In the third act he is more inside the role and the brief meeting between him and Carmen in the last act is beautifully and sensitively sung. Mirella Freni, heard here less than three weeks before her 24th birthday, was already an experienced Micaela, having made her stage debut in the role when she was nineteen. She often assumed the role during her long career and there are at least three complete recordings but none is as fresh and beguiling as this reading. She is divine in the first act duet with Don José and her aria in act III is so pure and vulnerable that a hanky at hand is recommendable. Franco Corelli also made his debut in a Carmen production at Spoleto in 1951. He made two commercial recordings of the role: with Karajan for RCA in 1963 (with Freni as Micaela) and in the 1970s, when he was past his best, for Eurodisc with Anna Moffo miscast in the title role. He is as ardent and wholeheartedly involved as in most of the recordings from his heyday. The Flower Song is in many ways masterly: finely nuanced and sung with great warmth; not to forget his exhibitionist diminuendos and notes held forever. Much as I admire him I can’t help feeling that some of these effects are more a play to the gallery than deeply considered psychological readings of the role. The final duet is the thriller one always hopes for. Giulietta Simionato is a strong, vibrant Carmen but her habanera is rather straight-faced. The seguidilla is much more alive and in the card scene in act III she is at her very best with chilling deep tones.

Admirers of Mirella Freni – and I know we are numerous – will want the recording as an early example of her art. Both Corelli and Simionato have a lot to offer. But don’t expect sound that comes anywhere close to studio recordings of the same vintage.

Göran Forsling

This issue can hardly have any claims to being a library version though it has its moments.