Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen - Opéra-comique in four acts (revised Guiraud) [150:38]
Carmen – Risë Stevens (mezzo); Don José – Richard Tucker (tenor); Escamillo – Paolo Silveri (baritone); Michaëla – Nadine Conner (soprano); Moralès – Clifford Harvuot (baritone); Zuniga – Ossie Hawkins (baritone); Frasquita – Lucine Amara (soprano); Mercédès – Margaret Roggero (soprano); Le Dancaïre – George Cehanovsky (baritone); Le Remendado – Alessio de Paolis (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. live, 16 February 1952, Metropolitan Opera, New York
no text or translation included
SONY CLASSICS 88697 96189 2 [76:35 + 74:03]

Here is a set to transport the listener back to a time when Carmen was performed not with spoken dialogue but with Guiraud’s recitatives, when – at least at the Met – the audience gave generous applause to scenery and to the main singers on their entries. This is indeed Carmen as it used to be seen and heard at the Met, with what I imagine was its principal cast in the early 1950s. As such it has a particular interest both as a souvenir for those able to attend such performances and also for those unable to hear Stevens, Tucker or Reiner live in this work.

Unfortunately what we have here seems to be a particularly routine, even at times rough, performance, and given the reputations of the main performers here it is probably unfair to judge them on this basis. Risë Stevens did in fact make a commercial recording of it with Reiner. It is a long time since I have heard it but my recollections are of a much sharper characterisation rather than the somewhat obvious vamp we have here. Richard Tucker and Paolo Silveri are no better and each seems to be giving their standard performance rather than in any way interacting with each other. The many minor parts are more satisfactory and in no way outstanding. I had hoped that Reiner’s presence would result in hard-edged excitement from orchestra and chorus, but this happens very seldom. Frankly I found little to enjoy in this performance.

As usual with this series Sony provide only a synopsis of the opera – no text or translation and no details of the performers or of the particular performance. I find it hard to believe that the Met’s archives could not have found something more interesting than the four photographs of the main artists in costume that we have here. The sound is adequate for its time but stage and audience noises can be distracting. Overall this is a disappointing set given the high reputations of those involved.

John Sheppard

Overall this is a disappointing set given the high reputations of those involved.