It may take a while for the listener to get acclimated to Carmen sung in Italian. This version of a live performance made in Palermo in 1959 is led by quintessentially French conductor Pierre Dervaux. His is an exceptionally expeditious reading, one of the fastest on disc. This, too, requires some adjustment, getting used to many of the numbers taken at a speedier tempo than is usual, but it's an approach that works; the opera hurtles forward with a breathless inexorability that makes complete sense. Giulietta Simionato makes a beguiling Carmen, and she is in exceptionally fine voice, but she doesn't bring a particularly distinctive dramatic perspective to the role. The same could be said of the other principals, Franco Corelli as Don José, Mirella Freni as Micaela, and Giangiacomo Guelfi as Escamillo; vocally they're top-notch, but their characterizations are nothing out of the ordinary, and not especially vivid. The singers in the smaller roles, on the other hand, Renato Ercolani and Guido Malfatti as the smugglers and Loretta Di Lello as Frasquita and Norma Palmieri as Mercedes, emerge as dramatically intriguing eccentrics. The musical values throughout are very high, with Corelli and Simionato making particularly strong impressions, but most of the dramatic interest is generated by Dervaux in his urgent pacing. The chorus is a little ragged, but given the rag-tag character of the crowds, it doesn't sound out of place. The sound quality is variable; the singers and the orchestra are always clearly audible, but there is a nearly incessant undercurrent of ambient noise, much of which sounds like talking, and there is occasional distortion. The voices sometimes flit capriciously back and forth between channels, to annoying effect. While this is not a fully satisfactory account of the opera, it is of interest because of Dervaux's propulsive conducting and the consistently high quality of the vocal performances.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2