What a pleasant surprise that this recording of Carmen, that, on the basis of its packaging looks like it was intended to be essentially a showcase for Andrea Bocelli, is an entirely respectable version of the opera. Much of the credit goes to Myung-Whun Chung, who leads Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France in an exceptionally brisk account of the score, starting with a prelude that's bracingly impetuous, but he can be languidly flexible when the music calls for it. He uses a sort of hybrid version of the score, with some of the spoken dialogue and some of Guiraud's recitatives, and it works just fine. The singing itself is largely of a high quality, and most reservations come from the singers' lack of full dramatic engagement with the material and with each other; there is little chemistry between the two leads, for instance. Marina Domashenko has the vocal resources necessary for the role, and she's effective in the seductive moments, such as the Habanera, Seguidilla, and her Act II dance for Don José, but she fails to project the fiery temperament and emotional complexity of the most persuasive Carmens. Bocelli is most successful in the music that allows him to sing sweetly, such as his Act I interactions with Micaëla, but his Don José is always believably human; he, more fully than Domashenko, embodies his character's development, particularly his growing desperation. His lack of vocal consistency is problematic, but at his best here, the fullness his tone, and the discipline of his phrasing might well surprise his critics. Eva Mei is a sweet-voiced but somewhat bland Micaëla. As Escamillo, Bryn Terfel is a strong and nuanced; his experience and his musical and dramatic depth stand out. All the secondary roles, especially Jean-Luc Ballestra's Morales, are very well sung, and the Act III ensembles are among the high points of the performance. This may not be the most dramatically compelling or vocally consistent performance of the opera on record, but its strengths make it a version that deserves attention. Decca's sound is clean and balanced.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
Act 2. En voilà assez; je t'ai dit qu'il fallait venir, et tu viendras... Halte-là! Qui va là? Dragon d'Alcala!
Act 2. Je vais danser en votre honneur... Au quartier! pour l'appel!... Ah! j'étais vraiment trop bête!