Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: highlights (1875) [74:55]
Tatiana Troyanos (mezzo) – Carmen; Plácido Domingo (tenor) - Don
José; José van Dam (baritone) – Escamillo; Kiri Te Kanawa
(soprano) – Micaëla; Norma Burrowes (soprano) – Frasquita; Jane Berbié (mezzo) – Mercédés; Michel Roux (baritone) – Dancaïre; Michel Sénéchal (tenor) - Remendado; Pierre Thau (bass) – Zuniga; Jacques Loreau (speaker) - Lillas Pastia
John Alldis Choir
Boys' Chorus from Haberdashers' Aske's School, Elstree
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, July 1975. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3520 [74:55]
Carmen, like Don Giovanni, strikes me as unusually
difficult to "get right". The score's musical and vocal
hurdles ensure that not only do you need an appropriate cast and conductor,
but everyone pretty much has to be on top form. So your reaction to
this selection from Solti's complete recording will depend on how
you like the singing, the conducting and even the engineering.
The sessions captured Solti at the peak of his powers and popularity.
His conducting, at its best, etches detail with marvelous rhythmic
alertness: note the pillowy, full-bodied brass chords in the Prélude.
His pacing is unexceptionable and always grateful for the soloists.
Some "trademark" Solti moments - the resonant string chords
under Don José's "Ce baiser" in the Micaëla duet,
for example - come off in this transfer as overbearing. A number of
uncertain and even early bass pizzicati - unfortunately magnified
by Decca's boomy bass equalization - suggest some lack of clarity
in Sir Georg's beat.
Kiri Te Kanawa, fresh from her previous Covent Garden and Met triumphs,
sings Micaëla gorgeously. Now and then, a top note betrays some strain,
or a low phrase will be diffuse and mouthy - the two conditions are
not unrelated. Most of the time, the sound is creamy and vibrant,
free of the breathiness that would later creep from her crossover
albums into her legit singing.
Plácido Domingo, too, is captured at his most youthfully refulgent.
Oddly, he tends to push ahead between phrases of the Flower
Song - he keeps the pulse steady within each phrase - but
any discomfort doesn't show in the rolling, full-bodied sound. There
are moments of iffy French. The José-Micaëla duet, with these two
artists, is a vocal and musical high-point.
Here and there, Tatiana Troyanos - replacing Shirley Verrett, who
sang in the Covent Garden run - offers flashes of a strongly profiled
Carmen. Her entrance recitative, for example, is vivid, with pointed
detail. The set pieces - including the Habañera that immediately
follows - sound comparatively generic, with the voice locked into
overly covered vowels. The Card Scene is particularly frustrating:
for all her verbal responsiveness, you simply can't understand her.
José van Dam, ordinarily a tactful artist and an estimable singer,
blusters his way through a lot of syllables in the Toreador Song,
including most of the downbeats, to no apparent advantage. Unfortunately,
his earlier recording for Lombard (Erato) and his later one for Karajan
(DG) are much the same - for my taste, he simply was never a good
You can always take issue with the choices for this sort of selection.
Certainly, it's good to have the Quintet, performed here with winning
brio - the comprimarii are first-rate - and the opening choral
scene of Act IV makes a nice splash. Still, given Solti's knack for
projecting colour and texture, I might have sacrificed either or both
of these to have room for the three Entr'actes.
Decca's souped-up late-analog mix-downs haven't always worn well in
the transfer to digital. The multi-channel recording remains vivid
in lightly scored passages and homophonic tuttis. In the
busier passages, however, the various musical elements all sound equally
close, which, combined with Sir Georg's intensity, produces aural
fatigue. Besides, the conductor hardly needed the help.
The producers have chosen, unnecessarily, to make a break between
track 8 (the Flower Song) and track 9 (Carmen's "Non! Tu
ne m'aimes pas," which immediately follows). The billing
is complete almost to the point of being misleading. Zuniga's participation
is limited to the ensemble portions of the Toreador Song - the José-Carmen
argument ends on the big diminished-seventh chord before Zuniga knocks.
Lillas Pastia, a speaking role, is heard only in the dialogue preceding
Escamillo's entry; the boys' chorus appears only in the Act IV opening.
If you're picking and choosing to assemble a Carmen - the
way people used to in 78 rpm days, when complete operas were few and
far between - you might want to consider this at mid-price, for Domingo
and Te Kanawa.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and