Claudio Abbado / Teresa Berganza

Bizet: Carmen

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AllMusic Review by

This 1977 recording of Carmen was based on a production from the Edinburgh Festival and includes most of the cast from that production with the exception of Ileana Cotrubas as Micaëla and Sherrill Milnes as Escamillo. Claudio Abbado conducts the London Symphony Orchestra, which plays with crisp precision and vitality. The evaluation of any performance of Carmen is complicated by the variety of editions available, the primary ones being the traditional version that uses recitatives set to music by Ernst Guiraud after the composer's death and the 1964 Fritz Oeser edition that uses the original spoken recitatives, but that reintroduces music Bizet discarded before the premiere. Most conductors using the spoken dialogue omit some or all of the discarded music, but Abbado includes it, and the result feels choppy and uneven, particularly in the first act. That effect is exacerbated by Abbado's performance. His tempos are frequently eccentrically slow or fast, without any apparent rationale, and he doesn't convey a convincing dramatic through-line or the sense of inevitable musical momentum that drives the opera. There are many effective moments, some lovely and some thrilling, but they don't add up to a convincing whole. That being said, the performances of the principals are often exceptional. Teresa Berganza's sultry, believably natural Carmen is beautifully nuanced, dramatically riveting, and musically ravishing. Plácido Domingo is a troubled, powerful Don José (pronounced here the Spanish rather than the French way) and his singing is lyrically intense. Cotrubas gives Micaëla exceptional warmth, even sensuality, and makes her a more interesting character than is usual. As Escamillo, Milnes is the least effective of the principals, sounding somewhat boomy and stiff. The sound alternates between the cavernous and the distant sides of an ideal ambience, and there is sometimes intentional but distracting crowd chatter under the spoken dialogue. In spite of the album's drawbacks, Berganza's vivid performance makes this a recording that should interest fans of the opera.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Carmen, opera
1
3:31
2
2:09
3
4:09
4
2:34
5
0:45
6
1:37
7
1:06
8
5:12
9
0:45
10
4:49
11
2:24
12
1:41
13
2:19
14
2:24
15
4:04
16
3:19
17
4:14
18
4:29
19
2:16
20
1:47
21
5:06
22
1:15
23
1:31
24
8:00
25
4:49
26
2:33

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Carmen, opera
1
5:41
2
4:15
3
4:01
4
3:31
5
2:00
6
3:00
7
4:40
8
1:29
9
3:20
10
3:20
11
0:49
12
0:30
13
3:07
14
0:43
15
4:50
16
3:42
17
3:00
18
5:16
19
2:10
20
2:23
21
3:51
22
3:19
23
9:24
blue highlight denotes track pick