Simionato, Gedda, Guden, Roux, Von Karajan, Bizet: Carmen

Marion Lignana Rosenberg

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Though graced with some of opera's most toe-tapping tunes, Georges Bizet's Carmen (1875), based on Prosper Merimee's novella of the same name, is a stark and hardnosed tale of ethnic and sexual clashes. Don Jose, a soldier and mama's boy, falls for the gypsy Carmen — a stateless, elusive woman who refuses to play by his rules. Sparks fly, blood flows, and Bizet serves up one greatest hit after another, including Carmen's "Habanera" and the matador Escamillo's "Toreador Song." This 1954 recording is short on Gallic elegance but long on dramatics. Giulietta Simionato, perhaps the most versatile mezzo of the 20th century, is a smoldering Carmen. Her impassioned Don Jose is fresh-voiced tenor Nicolai Gedda, while baritone Michel Roux as Escamillo offers an example of authentic French style. The radiant Hilde Gueden as Micaela is an ideal foil to Simionato, and legendary maestro Herbert von Karajan keeps this motley, spicy stew simmering.