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Georges Bizet: Carmen
Anne Sofie von Otter (Carmen), Marcus Haddock (Don José), Laurent Naouri (Escamillo), Lisa Milne (Micaëla), Jonathan Best (Zuniga), Hans Voschezang (Moralès), Mary Hegarty (Frasquita), Christiane Rice (Mercédès), Anthony Wise (Lilas Pastia), Quentin Hayes (Le Dancaïre), Colin Judson (Le Remendado), Franck Lopez (Le guide), The Glyndebourne Chorus, Tecwyn Evans (Chorus Master), The Children's Chorus of Stoke Brunswick School, East Grinstead, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philippe Jordan (Conductor), David McVicar (Director), Michael Vale (Sets), Sue Blane (Costumes), Paule Constable (Lights), Andrew George (Choreography), Nicholas Hall (Fight Director)
Recorded live at Glyndebourne Opera House (August 17, 2002) – 230’ (2 DVDs)
Opus Arte OA MO6011 D – Audio: LPCM 2.0, dts Digital Sound – Video: 16.9 Anamorphic

Opus Arte is re-releasing Glyndebourne 2002 Carmen, unquestionably the best available in a plethoric catalogue. All has already been said about this fascinating production, and, eleven years later, we can only join in the chorus.

The singing cast is superb and hardly reveals any weak points. Marcus Haddock admirably conveys Don José's indecision, on one side longing for the world he left behind him in Navarre, and on the other, this lustful, lascivious temptation of a new world that Carmen offers him. Haddock has a ringing tenor and the delivery of "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée..." is exemplary. His Micaëla (Lisa Milne) looks a little matronly but the voice is superb and she fits the part with incisive talent. Director McVicar has an interesting reading of the role, and he offers a variant to the pure soul ready to sacrifice herself for the man she loves. Here, she is some sort of a petit-bourgeois middle-class woman, somewhat past her best years, and on her way to becoming a spinster; a sincere and good-hearted human being who ends up being the loser. Laurent Naouri as Escamillo assumes dead-centre the characteristic pose and attitude of the eternally pompous bullfighter, impeccable also from the vocal side. All principals have a near-perfect French enunciation, a paramount quality, as this is presented in the original 1875 version, with all the spoken dialogues between sung segments.

Who would have thought that von Otter, often described as the "Swedish icy queen," would give such a fiery account of Bizet's character? If you remember the excellent Carmen of Julia Migenes-Johnson, well, von Otter's is a few notches above. Everything she does is charged with a raw, sexual energy that is the complete obverse of refinement. Von Otter was 46 at the time of this production and at that wondrous stage of feminine attractiveness, she becomes a tigress. What we have here is a fiery red-haired, blue-eyed, erotically super-charged whirlwind of a woman. Vocally, she amazes, as well, even without the low notes of the cards' aria. Like most, she resorts to chest register, but does it so tactfully.

Director David McVicar, the enfant terrible of theatrical stages, certainly has his fair share in the rethinking of the character, but he might not have been so successful without von Otter. His Carmen is crude, rude, violent, and emotionally packed, with, yes, Dickensian undertones. Chorus and supporting role are excellent throughout.

For those who enjoy watching conductors, they are in for a treat. The young Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan almost creates a new character in the opera, half-way matador, half-way Flamenco dancer. It is amazing to see him flamboyantly wave his baton like some sort of weapon à la Furtwängler, throwing out his chest, dancing on the podium like the young Georges Prêtre, or opening his eyes as in utter wonderment. Some might call it distracting antics, we prefer to call it elegant energy and physical intensity. The end result is impeccable, with tempos perfectly in place. The London Philharmonic is in superb form and produces a wonderful sound throughout.

This Carmen is a complete knock-out.

Christian Dalzon




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