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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:32 PM
Bizet: Les pêcheurs de perles on DVD
Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles.

I love it. I don't understand where the criticism of this opera comes from . People say that the libretto is ridiculous - I've seen worse.

I think it is shockful of beautiful music and impressive, majestic orchestration, beautiful choruses, and two of the best pieces ever: the Au fond du temple saint duet and the Je crois entendre encore tenor aria. And there is more, a lot more - some beautiful love duets, a nice cavatina by Leila, a majestic finale to Act II, opportunities for some nice exotic ballets. There is good pace, the music flows very smoothly, and even the recitatives are very pleasant and easily get into bursts of melodious ariosi. The recurring friendship leitmotif is beautiful.

I think people say they are disappointed because they keep waiting for another Carmen. Carmen it is not, but it is still a very beautiful opera.

For me, it's an A+ and I don't care what the critics say.

Je crois entendre encore,
Caché sous les palmiers,
Sa voix tendre et sonore
Comme un chant de ramier!
O nuit enchanteresse!
Divin ravissement!
O souvenir charmant!
Folle ivresse! doux rêve!

Aux clartés des étoiles,
Je crois encore la voir,
Entr'ouvrir ses longs voiles
Aux vents tièdes du soir!
O nuit enchanteresse! etc
Charmant souvenir!

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This production is not tops, and the singing is so-so in parts, better in orders, but there aren't alternatives on DVD so it will have to do, because the opera is so good!

As a production, it is faulty but not too much, it is still quite enjoyable, of the "pretty good" kind without being perfect or outstanding. This opera is calling for a top quality DVD or blu-ray with prime singers.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:35 PM
Bizet: La Jolie Fille de Perth.
There is no commercial DVD of this opera, but there are at least three recordings on CD, one of them with June Anderson, Alfred Kraus, and José van Dam. I haven't listened to any, and this is my first experience with this opera.

I saw a TV broadcast of a production by the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne, with singers and a conductor who are completely unknown to me with just one exception. I forgot the name of the French conductor, who is at the head of an equally unknown orchestra from Hungary (why?). The title role (Cathérine Glover, the fair maid of the title) is by the very pretty soprano Inva Mula (another one for our lovely sopranos thread), who sings well and is easily the best artist in this production - she is known for being the alien opera singer in The Fifth Element.

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The other principals are young and good looking but don't sing as well. Charles Workman is her love interest Henry Smith, LaPointe is the Duke, de Beaufort is Mag, the gypsy, and there are other minor roles. All of them except Inva Mula are rather mediocre singers. Although I haven't heard this opera before, I suspect that the conductor set the tempo too slow (because Bizet is usually more lively than what I've just heard, and a couple of arias from this opera that I knew from compilations do seem to have been played with a faster tempo in those compilations).

The staging is ugly, ineffective, and senseless, with a number of weird convoluted big stones/boulders hanging from the ceiling (why??). Everything is rather dark and the costumes border the ridiculous. There is the usual regietheater touch: it's the 14th century, but three watchmen who patrol the streets have electric flashlights. Acting is pretty bad, again with the exception of Inva Mula who was decent; the others were stiff and unconvincing (although they did look their parts).

About the opera itself, it is the third from Bizet that I get to know, and it is clearly inferior to his two best known works, Carmen and Les Pêcheurs de Perles. But this is more the fault of the libretto than that of Bizet. His music is pretty beautiful and melodious throughout the entire work. The problem resides more in the slow pace of the plot, the predictable and cliché nature of the story, and the lack of real dramatic impact of its happy ending. We are miles away from the emotions of his two masterpieces.

In a few words, here is the plot: Commoner boy loves commoner girl. Perverted nobleman flirts with girl, drawing the jealousy of his Gypsy former lover. Nobleman invites commoner girl to his palace for a night of love; she refuses. Gypsy girl dances sensually for nobleman, who asks her to arrange for commoner girl to come to his palace. Gypsy girl is livid with jealousy, pretends to agree, but for revenge, disguises herself to look like commoner girl and goes to the palace, leading commoner boy to think that his beloved is unfaithful. Gypsy girl wears a carnival mask and engages in a night of love with nobleman who can't tell the difference and thinks that he has had the commoner girl. Gypsy flees in the morning without revealing her identity. Girl's father announces to nobleman that his daughter will marry commoner boy, who then publicly refuses to marry her and accuses her of being the nobleman's mistress. Girl asks nobleman to vouch for her, he doesn't (he still thinks that she was indeed the slut who slept with him). Girl faints and goes crazy. Commoner boy's friends vouch for commoner girl's honor (they saw that she wasn't the one who spent the night with nobleman) but boy doesn't believe them and as they insist, challenges one of them to a duel. They say that God will pass judgment, and if girl is virtuous, friend will prevail in the duel, but if girl is a slut, boy will prevail. Girl goes see boy, despondent, and he starts to believe her, and says that he'll let his friend kill him in the duel so that her honor is restored. A buggle call signals the start of the duel, and boy leaves to go fight against his friend. Girl goes even crazier believing that her beloved has died in the duel, and there is a mad scene. Gypsy girl has pity, arranges for nobleman to stop the duel before anybody gets killed, and shows herself disguised as commoner girl so that everybody realizes what really happened. Commoner boy and commoner girl embrace, her nervous breakdown is instantly cured, and everybody rejoices. Curtain.

Basically, a lot goes one but nothing really happens. Like Bellini once said, opera seria needs a couple of murders, a couple of stabbings or poisonings. Happy endings don't mix very well with opera seria.

Anyway, there are some memorable arias - the recurrent love theme recovered from the boy's serenade to his girl, the friend (who is also in love with girl) lamenting his sort, a drinking song, the usual coloraturas for the mad scene, some good choral music, and the usual folkloric music for the Gipsy's sensual dance. Everything very conventional. Nothing really original or impressive.

However, like I said, the music *is* beautiful. Another case of a weak libretto set to good music. I'm not sure if this warrants a revival. Most likely, it's best enjoyed in highlights of the best arias and orchestral parts.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:37 PM
Bizet: Carmen on Blu-ray
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OK, folks, I'll be reviewing the famous Rosi movie, considered by many to be the best version of Carmen on VHS - it used to be out of print and very expensive and now has been re-released on DVD and blu-ray
1983(FI) - Lorin Maazel - Orchestre National de Paris - Choeurs de Radio-France
Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée
Screen adaptation by Francesco Rosi and Tonino Guerra
Choreography by Antonio Cades
Cinematography by Pasqualino de Santis
Sets and costumes by Enrico Job
Directed by Francesco Rosi

Plácido Domingo, Julia Migenes-Johnson, Ruggero Raimondi, Faith Isham get the four main roles (respectively Don José, Carmen, Escamillo, Micaëla.

Running time 155 minutes
1.85:1 Aspect ratio (this means widescreen but not quite, with two tiny vertical black bars - actually this may be misinformation because reviewers say it's actually 1.66:1 - a little better than 1.33:1)
Sung in French with obligatory English subtitles, stereo sound
No extras, no liner notes (!)

It is very regrettable that the blu-ray version doesn't include French subtitles and unlike the DVD, you can't turn off the subtitles. I'm not sure if you get anything out of buying blu-ray since this is an old image that is not really high-def. Also, the DVD has 24 chapters so it is easier to find specific arias, while the blu-ray is divided in 8 chapters. So technically this is very disappointing.

Impressive opening scene while the credits roll and before the music start, with a bullfight very realistically filmed (I mean, they filmed the real thing, with a half-dead bull blinking his eyes, until the torero kills him - it does show how cruel this thing is).

The overture rolls, disturbed by all sorts of noise - this is a movie, folks, not the staged opera, duh.

It's all filmed on location, in real Spanish (Andalusian) villages and landscapes, with real Spanish people, period costumes, all very realistic; one does have the impression of seeing the 'real' story if only the story were real. It's an interesting take.

I'm not sure if I like the idea of all this noise superposed on the orchestra sounds and singing.

There are lip-syncing problems, and I *HATE* the obligatory English subtitles, which I don't need at all (I know the libretto by heart) and it really irritates me that I can't turn them off. And then, they're quite British, for example, like an Amazon reviewer noticed, translating drôle de gens as a right rum bunch.http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/scold.gifCome on! Don't ruin the exquisite libretto!!!

Maazel - a conductor I don't especially like or trust - seems to do better than I expected when I learned that it was him at the helm. I don't have major complaints about the performance of the orchestra. Probably these French musicians play Carmen on autopilot anyway, regardless of the conductor.

The landscapes are really gorgeous. Plácido Domingo looks dashing as Don José. I'm not as fond of Faith Isham as Micaela - her angelic looks are very right for the role but her singing is not good, with a number of pitch errors (mostly she can't sustain a pitch for too long without showing undue variations).

Then we get an eyeful of Julia Migenes all wet in a swimming pool/fountain thingy, with generous cleavage.

We're listening to the Habanera - strangely enough, it starts without the orchestra. This is one of the problems with this filmed version. The orchestra pauses for too long, longer than the spoken dialogue would warrant. It's like a stop-and-start Carmen. Then there are birds chirping during the Habanera, again, the noise thing.

Vocally I've seen better Habaneras.

By now I know that I won't like this thing. It's visually gorgeous. But the less than ideal singing, the noise, the lip-syncing problems, and the start-stop issues are completely ruining it for me.
It helps in the mental visualization of the drama, but it's definitely not something that those who love this opera for its music will want to consider. The music here is not the essential aspect. It's a movie, and it shows. [Edit - I did change my mind later; keep reading]

Next we get the duet between Don José and Micaëla. I've mentioned already how I like Ms. Isham's looks but not her voice. Plácido doesn't do that well either - he sings the duet a bit higher than its usual tessitura, unlike the older Plácido whose voice has been turning darker and lower. It makes for a strange effect, like he's yelling the music instead of singing it. It lacks musical subtlety, probably aggravated by the fact that it's a studio recording lip-synced to the image.

To the advantage of this version, it seems so far to be very complete, with some arias that are usually cut from other productions.

OK, I need to stop thinking of Carmen the opera and start getting into the mood of Carmen the movie.

Migenes does the prison scene with Près des remparts de Séville very well. So does Domingo. This is getting better.

Act II starts with a slow-tempo'ed Les tringles des sistres tintaient, I suspect Maazel is starting to show his shortcomings. It does pick up pace for the Tra la la part.

The spoken dialogue, I've just noticed, does not correspond to the libretto - that's why they call this a movie adaptation.

Escamillo arrives by chariot, with lots of noise, which kind of dampens the musical build-up of this scene.

Raimondi does VERY well with Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre, delivering the best singing so far, in spite of his poor French accent, but with lots of musicality in the phrasing, and beautiful timbre and power.

Wow. This is goose-bumping. One of the best interpretations of the Toréador song on video, and this starts to win me over. A charming Migenes uses a mirror to flash the light of the bonfire on Raimondi's face, very teasing and natural. I'm rewinding this to see it again.

Then there is a scene with Remendado, Dancaire, Frasquita, Mercédès and Carmen that I didn't know. Like I said, this version does have some added scenes as compared to the usual versions (Carmen versions are such a mess, with so much variation with the various revisions).

Then it turns familiar again, with the usual scene with the five of them when Carmen discloses to her friends that she is in love with Don José.

The opera stops again and the film takes over. No orchestra to be heard. The scene that starts with Je vais danser en votre honneur is quite sexy.

Julia does a slow strip-tease, I watch this with some trepidation, we get some generous views of the upper part of her boobs and of her legs. Of course, like the libretto requires, stupid Don José stops the strip-tease before it gets too far, unfortunately. Migenes is spectacular in this scene. Her boobs go wild. Domingo acts and sings well. She lays down on the bed and opens her legs, pushes up her skirt. I can't see how Don José can restrain himself.

We get to La fleur que tu m'avais jetée. Domingo sings it beautifully. VERY beautifully. Wow.

Carmen who was very angry at him when he stopped her strip-tease, slowly melts down. This is a very effective scene. I think it justifies the purchase of this version, in itself.

The high quality continues with the Oui! Là-bas, là-bas dans la montagne duet, which Julia delivers with expertise and sensuality, and a lovely accent. Don José, we know, leaves anyway, the fool.

The scene with Zuniga, Dancaire and Remendado is also effective. With Don José having no other choice once he is surprised by his superior officer and can no longer leave the bandits' side, our dear Carmen gets to entice her man back to bed, and so do all the other girl smugglers to their men. They don't shave their underarms, though. I guess it is for authenticity. Unfortunately this movie adaptation doesn't go far enough to let us see a love scene that is not in the opera, darn! Where is the adaptation concept when we need it?

Act III

The prélude plays over images of a bull farm, it's interesting to see the bulls in full force, running around, as opposed to the sad dying bull of the opening scene.

We are treated to very realistic country scenes, I bet these extras are real people of the region, they certainly look their parts. It's all quite beautiful and atmospheric.

The chorus music starts and is well sung - except that there is sunlight everywhere when the libretto calls for a pitch-black night for this scene.

Frasquita and Mercédès are a bit shrill when they sing during the cart-reading scene. Carmen looks melancholic, after her fight with a haggard, unshaven Plácido/Don José.

Carreau! Pique! La mort!... is again very well sung and acted. Bravo, Julia!

By now the singers/actors are fully into this thing and the performance has improved a lot from Act I. Of course I don't know if they filmed this in sequence, but I suspect that they did, because these artists seem to be growing into their roles.

We get some serious cuts in the dialogue and jump almost immediately to Micaela's aria Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante. The location where she sings it is spectacular, and this seems to inspire her because she does better than in the first act. I mean, better, but not that good. Again, Faith's sweet, innocent looks are very appropriate to the role and in striking contrast to Julia's wild and slutty looks.

Cinematography here is very good, with shots of the huge rocks making Micaela appear very small and vulnerable.

The duel between Escamillo and Don José is well done. Raimondi continues to do very well. When Escamillo is leaving Julia/Carmen is a perfect actress; one can feel that she is interested, Don José looks at her, she notices that he's staring and recomposes her face. Well done.

Micaëla comes up and sings Moi! je viens te chercher, not so well, definitely a weak link.

By now Plácido is nothing short of spectacular, with a crazed look. Julia's acting becomes sublime; her face of disgust, fear, a bit of still-alive passion, annoyance, is something for the ages.

Faith Isham is really pale by comparison, which fits well the story, anyway.

We get the reprise of the Toréador song, with Raimondi doing well as usual.

Now we get to Séville. Spectacular street scenes. While Escamillo is getting ready we get a close-up of the bull, and we see Escamillo praying. All very impressive.

The paso-doble that opens the second tableau gets to be a lot more significant with all the street scenes, and this is excellent cinematography and movie direction.

The spectacular overture music comes back with scenes so beautiful that again, this segment justifies the purchase of this version. I think I'll never see Carmen the same way, now that I'm able to visualize the full glory of the folkloric aspects.

Very good scenes with the start of the bullfight, Carmen leaves to meet Don José, perfect surroundings. I don't like her outfit, though.

The duo is beautifully performed. The acting is less good than it was in the mountains. She looks like he's got bad breath or something.

The final scene is anticlimactic. After the rather spectacular second and third acts, I expected a lot more from it.

Complete credits roll over the Habanera, to the image of a dead Carmen, disheveled, undignified, with legs open, surrounded by her girlfriends. Not the best shot of the movie, and unfortunately the last one.

Time for the verdict.

Pros:

-Beautiful cinematography and location shots.
-Excellent, convincing acting from Julia Migenes, also quite sexy, with boobs that go feral at one point.
-Fabulous costumes and street/tavern/bullring/mountain scenes that make one really live inside the action and see the opera under a light that just plain imagination can't match, unless one is very familiar with Andalusia.
-Excellent Ruggero Raimondi, both in singing and acting, with one of the best Toréador songs
-Good singing from Plácidone, decent acting, great looks (for those who are into men)
-The orchestra does better than I expected
-Very good Act II and first half of Act III
-No significant cuts, with some arias and scenes that are not in many other versions
-Sharp colorful image with decent definition for an old movie

Cons:

-Stop-and-start concept
-Lots of incidental noise
-Weak Act I with unconvincing Habanera
-Anticlimactic last scene
-Weak Faith Isham as Micaëla
-Uneven supporting cast (with the men generally doing better than the women)
-'Adapted' spoken dialogue
-Lack of French subtitles
-Obligatory English subtitles - I really hate this part and it is unforgivable, since the DVD from the same company did have optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles - why not do it on the blu-ray???
-Stereo-only sound (decent, nevertheless)
-No liner notes - no insert whatsoever, not even a track list, no extras, and minimalistic division in chapters (8 for the entire opera, we might as well have the VHS if there's no better navigation)

There are lots of cons. Normally I wouldn't give to a version with so many cons my 'highly recommended' seal. But there are also *many* strong points. And certain scenes (which I highlighted above) do justify the purchase. Besides, anybody who loves this opera *must* see this, for the realistic settings and costumes.

It definitely could be better, and I don't think it is the best Carmen available on DVD. But the good parts are sublime. Therefore, in spite of the many 'cons' I'll still say 'highly recommended.'

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:38 PM
Bizet: Carmen on DVD
Thanks to a very sweet friend who sent this to me as a gift, I'll be reviewing the ROH Carmen with Antonacci and Kaufmann:

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Carmen, opéra-comique in four acts sung in French (1875)
Music by Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée

Conductor Antonio Pappano - 2006(LI)
Orchestra - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Chorus - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Stage director, Francesca Zambello
Designs, Tanya McCallin
TV direction, Jonathan Haswell

Carmen - Anna Caterina Antonacci
Don José - Jonas Kaufmann
Micaëla - Norah Amsellem
Escamillo - Ildebrando d' Arcangelo
Frasquita - Elena Xanthoudakis
Mercédès - Viktoria Vizin
Le Dancaïre - Sébastien Bou
Le Remendado - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Moralès - Jacques Imbrailo
Zuninga - Matthew Rose

Running time 152 minutes
Decca DVD release, 2008
NTSC, 16:9 anamorphic, Region code zero, sound LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1, subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish, Chinese.
No extras. Liner notes contain production pictures, an essay and synopsis in English, French, and German.

The overture is not played as impressively as I expected from Pappano and the ROH orchestra. But it's OK.

Micäela gets spectacular singing from Ms. Amsellen who is both one of the least attractive Micäelas I've seen on video, and one of the best singers to attack this role.

The set for the first scene is relatively minimalistic and tasteful/elegant, blue sky and red-colored walls, with one solitary tree.

The childrens' chorus starts with a lot of stage noise. I've seen this scene staged better than this many times. Too much movement, too much noise, not really cute, not using the stage dynamics very well. Forgettable.

Our good JK looks less dashing than his usual self, all goody-two-shoes in his uniform, but says the spoken dialogue with good articulation.

Many of the factory workers are yummy. Tension mounts for the expected moment (for me) when one of my favorite singers (Antonacci) will enter the stage.

La voilà!

Wow! Great wild looks, sublime voice for the Habanera! A winner!!! Natural, charmingly vulgar, confident, perfect delivery, great acting. This is one of the best Habanera's I've seen... One remembers Callas, and I think she crushes all the other soprano's I've seen in this role. But I do like it a bit better when it's a mezzo. Anyway, let's not nitpick.

And her cough, cough assets are prominent and very well displayed and used.

Fabulous scene. A+++

El Guapo starts his singing - just as great!

OK, folks, this will be a treat. We got two outstanding singers who look their parts, act well, and sing divinely. Micäela comes back and we know already about her great singing, so now only Escamillo is left - and I trust Ildebrando, so this is a star-studded cast.

The orchestra seems to wake up after the pale overture, in the scene of the fight between Carmen and her peer. I wanted this spark that seemed to be missing. Now we got it.

Escamillo = meh.

La Fleur que tu m'avais jetée is very good with JK.

The settings basically use the same walls all the time. After the spectacular Carmen filmed on location that I reviewed above, this seems lame. Of course, staged opera and filmed opera are two different animals.

I'm still far from the end but my opinion is shaping up already: excellent pair of lead singers, perfect all along in singing, acting, and looks.

But this is *not* the best Carmen on visual media I've ever seen, for a number of reasons. Minimalistic staging and Carmen is not a good match. Other than Micäela, the supporting cast is not that good. The whole thing lacks enthusiasm and spark. The orchestra is good but not spectacular. Escamillo disappoints.

I don't think I'll be granting to this anything more than "recommended." If I change my mind, I'll edit this post. But I'm rather confident that this will be it.

Edit - the final scene is very good. But too little too late to make of this my very favorite Carmen. It is good, but it isn't the best one, in my humble opinion.

I guess even with all its highs *and* lows, I'll settle for the Migenes/Domingo film, unlike I said before. With time, it grew on me, and since there is no perfect Carmen, I'm willing to overlook some of the "cons" and pick it as my favorite.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 09:27 PM
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Like Alma I am surprised that this opera has not had more success - overshadowed by Carmen I suppose. As well as the stunning arias he mentions, there is a wonderful confrontation scene in the last act between the soprano and the spurned baritone which rivals the last act of Carmen in intensity if not melodic structure. Reviewers on Amazon have criticised the tenor (unusual, offpitch, thin) so much that I was expecting something truly awful and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, I enjoyed his singing. Of course he's short and rather pudgy while the baritone is tall and gorgeous, but that's one of the paradoxes of opera isn't it, the male love interest is often so unattractive.

I found the DVD very lovely visually, the costumes are various shades of dusky red, orange and saffron, the dancing is convincingly done by beautiful Italian people. Recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 27th, 2012, 11:40 AM
Carmen on blu-ray and DVD - Metropolitan Opera House new production

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Angela Gheorghiu was supposed to star alongside her husband Roberto Alagna but they were going through marital problems and she withdrew (recently they have reconciled). Elina Garanca who was scheduled to appear in Les Contes d'Hoffmann instead, was moved over to Carmen on short notice, and many feared that "the cold blond from the North" wouldn't be able to convincingly portray the sultry Mediterranean hot-blooded brunette. Elina gave an interview to Opera News Magazine saying, "just you wait. I'll be fine." Indeed, she was. With a dark-haired wig, Elina was one of the most beautiful Carmens to date, and unlike her real-life personality, was perfectly sexy and flirtatious. Vocally while not the best Carmen in recent memory, she was more than adequate. Roberto Alagna - an otherwise irregular singer capable of great performances as well as lackluster ones - was also in one of his good days. This was a satisfactory Carmen by all accounts. Set design was somewhat criticized but in my opinion was good enough - period staging, a bit on the minimalistic size but with some heaviness. The final scene of Carmen's murder (depicted on the cover) was particularly convincing and left the straight male operagoing population on the entire planet sitting on the edge of their seats, while Roberto tugged at Elina's outfit to the point that it was looking increasingly likely that a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions was about to happen live in HD for the world to see. The sticky pads held, nothing of the sort happened (oh so very close!) and one could almost hear a collective sigh of disappointment. One hell of an interesting Carmen! (by Almaviva)

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 27th, 2012, 11:51 AM
Carmen on DVD

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I really like Maria Ewing's performance here. She is a gifted actress and very convincing throughout the opera, and sings reasonably well. For Ms. Ewing's fans, it's an obligatory buy since it is one of her best performances on video. Another plus for lovers of traditionalist stagings is that the settings and costumes are satisfactory in that regard. Downsides include the fact that her counterparts do less well as Don José and Escamillo, and the technology of this 1999 release is rather weak, with bad sound balance that makes the orchestra strident and the singers hard to hear. The image format in 1.33:1 is outdated, and the fact that there are subtitles only in English is a pity for those who like to follow the text in French. Still, I think that Ms. Ewing still makes of this a (barely) recommended disc. (by Almaviva)

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 27th, 2012, 12:01 PM
Carmen on DVD

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This one is very good overall, with a star-studded cast - Agnes Baltsa, José Carreras, and Sam Ramey. The traditionalist old Met production is well rendered on video by competent Brian Large. Levine and the Met Orchestra do well. Subtitles include French and five other languages. Sound is only available on PCM stereo but has good balance. Image is an outadated 4:3. Recommended. (by Almaviva)

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 30th, 2012, 05:01 AM
Carmen on 3D Blu-ray (attention: this product is 3D only; doesn't have a 2D option, and won't play on regular 2D blu-ray players)
Review by Almaviva

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This is a revival of the production preserved on the famous Kaufmann-Antonacci DVD of December 2006, done almost four years later in June of 2010, and with the novelty of 3D image. Conductor and cast are almost entirely different with the exception of Frasquita who is the same singer in both performances.

It uses the Oeser version of the score.

Conductor - Constantinos Carydis
Stage Director - Francesca Zambello
Revival Director - Duncan MacFarland
Film Director - Julian Napier
Set and Costumes Designer - Tanya McCallin
Choreography - Arthur Pita

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera Chorus
Children of Trinity Boys Choir and Tiffin Girls Choir

Cast

Carmen - Christine Rice
Don José - Bryan Hymel
Escamillo - Aris Argiris
Micaëla - Maija Kovalevska
Zuniga - Nicolas Courjal
Moralès - Dawid Kimberg
Frasquita - Elena Xanthoudakis
Mercédès - Paula Murrihy
Le Dancaïre - Adrian Clarke
Le Remendado - Harry Nicoll
Lillas Pastia - Caroline Lena Ollson

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First, let's talk price. This 3D blu-ray costs $2.57 more than the same production in 2D with Antonacci and Kaufmann. It sells for $29.55 on Amazon.com, here: [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Bizet-Carmen-presented-RealD-Blu-ray/dp/B005LVEFQI/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1346298898&sr=8-15&keywords=carmen+opera)]

For comparison with other versions, like I said the 2D blu-ray with La Antonacci and Il Guapo sells for $26.98; the DVD of the same production (again, Ant-Kau) sells for an attractive $19.29; the DVD with Domingo and Migenes goes for $22.28 (actually a better option than its blu-ray because the DVD comes with better chapter division, and optional subtitles in 3 languages including French while the blu-ray, without adding much to image or sound due to this being an old movie, has obligatory subtitles in English and a totally crazy chapter division in 8 parts); the new Met DVD with Garanca and Alagna sells for $34.99, while the old one with Carreras and Baltsa goes for $24.99.

So, this is slightly on the expensive side, and one needs to also have a 3D capable HDTV, a 3D blu-ray player, HDMI cable, and 3D glasses - I repeat, this product is *not* dual system and won't play on a 2D player. Which is a pity, in terms of diffusion of this version, because a nice version it is!!!

I pity the fact that Opera Lively interviewee Bryan Hymel won't get his very fine Don José seen by a lot of people, since as we know, 3D technology is not exactly selling well. (Read Bryan's in-person interview with Opera Lively [here (http://operalively.com/forums/content.php/556-bryan-hymel)]). Once we interview an artist, we get a bit protective, and start refering to him as "our" Bryan. So, yes, I'd love for more people to see how well our Bryan does here.

Of course, the selling point of this blu-ray is the fact that it is the very first opera released on 3D. After all, the exact same production had already been released with first-rate, major stars Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann. How can poor Bryan Hymel and poor Christine Rice compete?

You know what? They can, and do. Both do a spectacular job. This is not to take anything away from Antonacci and Kaufmann, who are still superior to these two - we're talking about an incredibly high bar, with two of the best artists in activity, so, indeed it is not easy for Bryan and Christine. But if one doesn't get too caught up on the comparison, one doesn't miss the bigger stars a lot.

Bryan is compelling throughout the show, nails all the nuances of this tenor part, and acts the part well. Christine has the physique du role, really looks the part, is attractive and sexy, sings very well, and causes goosebumps with her acting, especially in the "La Fleur que tu m'avais jetée" scene, when she faces the camera with her back to Don José, and displays an amazing and evolving array of facial expressions as her anger starts to melt away by his declaration of love. Amazing acting job, brava! Both singers display appropriate technique and have no vocal failures whatsoever throughout the entire opera.

Still, like I said, Jonas and Anna Caterina do even better - but then, this version has another advantage: the other two principals are *far* superior to the ones in the 2006 production. We get a Micaëla here who sings just as well as the one we had then, but is a looker, unlike her counterpart of 2006, and can act. And surprise, surprise, the young singer doing his ROH debut, Aris Argiris, far outperforms veteran and much more famous singer Ildebrando d'Arcangelo who sang the role in 2006.

Frasquita is the same singer, and a fine one she is. Mercédès on the other hand is the unimpressive weaker link. Otherwise, *all* the remaining comprimarios do very well. So, this is interesting: we don't get the big stars, but in terms of ensemble singing and acting, this production actually beats the star-studded one.

And I'm even afraid that Mr. Constantinos Carydis doesn't allow us to miss Tony Pappano either. If anything, I believe I've enjoyed more the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House this time, than that time, which kind of surprises me. I should re-watch that DVD to make sure. I thought that under Carydis the ROH behaved exceptionally well, being delicate and soft when needed, and showing spectacular verve when appropriate. Anyway, comparisons apart, it was a fine conducting and playing job.

And then, the star of the night: the 3D technology.

I confess that I'm stunned. STUNNED!!!

I have never felt so vividly that it *is* possible to get close to the unique experience of attending live opera, from the comfort of my "opera man cave" where I have my 3D equipment. Sound-wise, my living room equipment is superior, with much better speakers, and 7.1 technology, compensating better for the lack of the live sound experience (which is still, don't read me wrong, by far the best way to enjoy opera).

But oh boy, 3D does help! A lot! A really, really big lot! Because, see, filmed opera for DVD and even blu-ray suffers from the fact that the eyes of the public become the eyes of the camera. So, one can only absorb the theatrical experience via what the video director chooses to focus on. Many staging details are missed.

Not so with this state-of-the-art 3D image (the ROH pulled all the stops, and used the best available 3D technology). There is a documentary on how they filmed it, and I pity the public because the equipment is bulky and intrusive, and occupies a large dolly with rails in front of the stage, unlike the more discreet regular HD cameras coming from the sides that we see at the Met when we attend in person a performance that is being broadcast for the Live in HD series.

But the result of this method is that the camera looks at the stage - the whole stage - like from the viewpoint of someone with a *very* good orchestra seat - and while they do employ close-ups (sparingly) from time to time, most of the time one gets to see a very large chunk of the stage, if not its entirety. And then, you see it almost exactly like in real life... you can look right, look left, look to the proscenium, look at the background, and see all the nuances with the very realistic 3D effect with fabulous depth, and the very high definition of the image.

Oh wow, in the scene I was talking about when Christine Rice is facing the camera in the foreground while Bryan is singing to her from further back, it looks like the beautiful singer is sitting right in the middle of my room. Incredibly neat!

I watched the whole thing with a smile, feeling like I got a $2,000 seat and was having the privilege of seeing the action upfront, very close to the singers.

I bought this TV a while ago and never got much use for its 3D capability, and was never very impressed with its use for movies or documentaries. But now I'm totally in love with the technology, as applied to opera. It must be the best use for this technology ever (I mean, for my taste). We all love opera; that's why we're all here on Opera Lively. We love live opera. And now there is a technology that almost brings the whole in-house experience to the comfort of our homes!

Please, please, opera companies and recording companies, do more opera in 3D!!!

This product has a couple of downsides. One is that the sound is just Dolby Digital, and is not surround. I guess they ran out of space to provide both the 3D image and a proper DTS surround track and still keep it inside one blu-ray disc, to contain costs. So, to really reproduce the in-house experience (sort of... of course we don't get a singers' voice projection from a disc, not even with the best DTS Master Audio 7.1 track) I'd love to have had both - the 3D image and the surround sound. But otherwise, the sound track on this product is very good, clear, with excellent balance.

The other downside is that the French subtitles contain several errors - missing lines, and other mistakes; e.g., the libretto calls for "ma chère" and the subtitles show "mon cher." They do provide a long list of languages - two French tracks (one for standard French and one for Canadian French), English, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, and Portuguese.

I suppose the fact that they don't play the prelude to the third act (it is played later while the credits roll) is another downside - although this piece of music is stylistically very different from the rest of the opera and kind of breaks down the action - but I like it, and it is there for a reason - to give the notion that we are in a bucolic setting, not in the city any longer.

There are three bonus features - a documentary about the 3D filming, interviews with the creative team about the 3D aspect, and interviews with team and singers about the opera itself. The insert contains a 3-page essay about the opera in English, French, and German, and a 2-page synopsis in the same three languages. Surprisingly, there is no chapter list. Two production pictures in color are provided.

Another interesting aspect is that I enjoyed a lot more the staging this time, as compared to the 2006 production - in spite of the somewhat monotonous minimalistic sets that are used with very little modification for all four acts and overstay their welcome. I remember that I complained of less than ideal blocking and dynamic use of space - but this time I did not have this impression, and thought that things moved along very well. I guess the 3D enhanced my appreciation of the staging - would have to go back and re-watch the 2006 product to see if it's just the 3D, or if the revival director indeed got some better solutions.

Verdict: A+

And I explain - it's not just the 3D. It's a fine ensemble of singers/actors and they render the opera very well - this production would stand on its own even on 2D. But yes, we don't get Antonacci and Kaufmann, so, it probably wouldn't be A+. But then, when you add the 3D experience, it pushes this product to A+ territory, and I'd say, for whoever is equipped to see it, it's highly recommended, and an obligatory buy.

MAuer
September 21st, 2012, 05:56 PM
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Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle
Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic, with the chorus and children’s chorus of the German State Opera, Berlin

Carmen: Magdalena Kozená
Don José: Jonas Kaufmann
Micaela: Genia Kühmeier
Escamillo: Kostas Smoriginas
Lt. Zuniga: Christian Van Horn
Moralès: Andrè Schuen
Frasquita: Christina Landshamer
Mercèdés: Rachel Frankel
Remendado: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Doncaire: Simone Del Savio

EMI 50999440 28527 (2 CDs)

Here are my impressions of this recording:

As mentioned in Stephen Jay-Taylor’s essay that is included in the CD booklet, this performance uses Fritz Oeser’s 1964 Bärenreuter edition of the score, which restored the original dialogue and a few other cuts. Reviewers have said (and I agree) that Sir Simon’s conducting and the Berlin Philharmonic’s playing are two of this recording’s greatest strengths. I’m noticing little details in the music that I hadn’t perceived before. Yet there is nothing eccentric in his reading. The focus here is on Bizet’s music and the opera’s drama, not on the conductor’s peculiarities.
The other great strength is, of course, Jonas Kaufmann’s Don José. This is one of his signature roles, and it’s easy to hear why. There are the beautiful, rich timbre and the musicality one expects from him, as well as the emotional involvement with his character that is another of his “trademarks.” In the opera’s final moments, as José confronts Carmen, we can hear this guy really “losing it.”
Genia Kühmeier is a lovely Micaela and her singing is always a pleasure to listen to. This is the one character who has no source in Mêrimée’s novel, but rather was introduced by Bizet’s librettists as a “wholesome” counterpart to Carmen. So, not surprisingly, her personality is not as fully drawn as those of the other protagonists. I think Kühmeier does as well as Cotrubas and Ricciarelli on the two other audio recordings I have to give José’s hometown sweetheart a bit of backbone.
Kostas Smoriginas has the right sort of voice for Escamillo. No fault of his if one of my two recordings features Sherrill Milnes, my "baritone god," in this role. Milnes is really able to convey the torero’s glamour and magnetism – the bullfighter being a sort of cross between an athlete and an entertainer. Van Dam (on my other recording), unlike both Smoriginas and Milnes, has the advantage of being a native speaker of French.
Which brings us to Magdalena Kozená’s Carmen. She is a lyric mezzo with an attractive voice, as are Teresa Berganza and Agnes Baltsa on my other recordings. But Berganza and Baltsa both bring Carmen to life, whereas Kozená’s gypsy somehow strikes me as lacking personality. It’s not that she doesn’t try – but she just doesn’t seem to have gotten inside the character the way the two aforementioned ladies have. My initial reaction was that her singing seemed ladylike; now I’d probably amend that to “intellectual.” She’s thinking about what Carmen should be feeling at a particular moment; she isn’t actually feeling it, whereas Kaufmann gives the listener the sense that he’s really experiencing whatever José is going through.
The smaller roles are all very well cast – Christina Landshamer and Rachel Frankel may be the best I’ve heard in the parts of Carmen’s two girlfriends, and Christian Van Horn has the right sort of swagger for Lieutenant Zuniga.

jflatter
September 21st, 2012, 07:38 PM
If I could add a supplemental review to MAuer. I also think that Jonas Kaufmann's Don Jose is a great strength of this recording which I listened to on Spotify this week. I did not like Kozena's Carmen at all it felt like she was singing a Schubert recital at Wigmore Hall. I have no doubt that she is a very good singer but this is totally the wrong role for her. If only Antonacci did a CD recording. Where I disagree with MAuer is the conducting. I feel that Rattle approaches this like he would with Pelleas et Melisande. There is indeed absolutely beautiful playing from the Berlin Phil but I just found everything a little bit too clinical. I also have to admit that Kostas Smoriginas's Escamillo did not do it for me at all and as MAuer points out when you have Milnes or Van Dam then there is tough competition but even so I think there are better singers around today that could have been recruited. So overall this is not a great Carmen in my opinion.

Aksel
September 21st, 2012, 11:38 PM
I actually like Kozena's Carmen

Herkku
September 22nd, 2012, 05:03 AM
Noë (Halévy and Bizet)

935

Another old review.

Who has heard of Noë by Halévy and Bizet? I hadn't before I made a search of what is available on DVD from the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne. Although the name of Georges Bizet is written in larger letters on the DVD box, Noë was actually the last opera of Halévy, which Bizet (his son-in-law - did you know that?!) completed. Neither of them saw the opera performed during their lifetimes.

I sat down to watch without any prior knowledge about the work. My first impression was that this is something so biblical that it would suit Sunday school, Noah and everybody praising the Lord as the King of Heaven, but the Man as the king of the Earth... The engagement of one of Noah's sons, Sem, with Ebba is about to take place, when Cham, also a son of Noah, appears - having moved to the desert - and publicly announces that he is abandoning his wife, Sarah, without telling the reason. Apparently he has lost his faith. After this, Sarah also escapes to the desert, only to be confronted by an angel (wearing a ludicrous attire of a motorcyclist or a F1 driver), who falls for her, becoming literally a fallen angel. The two are next seen as the rulers of a community not unlike Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh, I almost forgot that meanwhile Ebba has been abducted by men carrying assault rifles and wearing balaclavas, and taken to the fallen angel. Cham also appears, seeking refuge, not knowing that the woman she rejected, has some power here. Abruptly Noah himself appears and warns everybody of the impending doom caused by God's wrath. The great flood ensues and we are shown video footage of the Thailand tsunami. Then we have a final ensemble begun by Sarah, joined by Noah and his family, who have been saved in the Ark.

There is not great music to be heard here, even if the opera has its moments. For example, you would think that the final ensemble could be something like Rossini's "Dal tuo stellato soglio" from his Mosé in Egitto, but it isn't. The singers do their best with the material at their disposal. The fallen angel, Ituriel, sung by Philippe Do, a tenor of Vietnamese parentage, made a special impression vocally, even if clad ridiculously and made-up like a Japanese Kabuki actor. Jean-Philippe Courtis as Noah has the kind of bass voice and authority suitable for the role. Anne-Sophie Schmidt as Sarah seems to be a regular in these performances from Compiègne, and even if she is not a world star, does her role plausibly. Hers is also the bosom that we get to see more of than anyone else's...

One thing: I had a hard time keeping track of who is who. I even checked the Bible, but only the names of Noah's sons are mentioned. I still think that there is a mistake in the menus of the DVD, one track being named "Fiançailles de Cham et Ebba", when it should be "Sem and Ebba". If I have not completely lost my mind, Cham and Sarah are already married.

The final verdict: a curiosity with a weird production, musically not very rewarding.

Herkku
September 22nd, 2012, 05:37 AM
Les Pècheurs de perles

Another old review.

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This performance is part of a box titled Teatro La Fenice Collection. I initially assumed that all performances would have been from the rebuilt La Fenice (I was lucky enough to see Adriana Lecouvreur at the old opera house), but this one was filmed in Teatro Malibran, a temporary refuge (still in Venice) during the reconstruction. The performance is from the year 2004, at the end of which the new opera opened. There are six operas in the box, some of which have been recorded in the new opera house, still aptly named La Fenice or the Phoenix, raising from the ashes. I shall deal with them one at a time, otherwise I might easily forget my impressions of each. At least this one seems to be available separately.

Les Pècheurs de perles is one of those operas, that are known for a single aria, Nadir's "Je crois entendre encore", possibly also for the duet of Nadir and Zurga "Au fond du temple saint". But as this DVD shows it works on stage as a whole. Again, I won't bother with the plot, which is easily enough accessed through internet. The opera precedes Carmen by something like twelve years, but the music is wonderful and the beautiful melodies are already there. Dancers are used effectively in an opera that might be a little static otherwise.

Annick Massis as Léïla is a complete revelation to me. She has a wonderful voice to begin with, but she looks uncannily - at least from some camera angles - like Maria Callas!

The Japanese tenor, Yasu Nakajima, may seem a bit incongruous here, being a head shorter than Léïla (and everything supposedly taking place somewhere in India), but otherwise sings his role admirably, the famous aria included.

Zurga, Luca Grassi, has a handsome baritone voice, his strong high notes exceptional. The opera is conducted by Marcello Viotti.

All in all, the performance is well worth both seeing and hearing.

Herkku
September 22nd, 2012, 02:12 PM
Djamileh

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Djamileh preceded Carmen only by three years and premiered after nine years of Les pêcheurs des perles. It's a short work fitting neatly on one CD. Echoes of both operas are immediately recognizable. This is the same Bizet that we know but without the full blast of Carmen.

I copy the plot directly from the accompanying booklet (by Klaus Adam and translated by Róger Clement) of the CD, because I couldn't better the description.

Haroun (the location is Cairo), a spoiled young man from a noble house, changes his mistress each new moon. His servant Splendiano buys them for him at the Cairo slave market. However, the beautiful Djamileh - slave girls in operas are always luxury versions of Aphrodite's daughters - unfortunately falls in love with the blasé good-for-nothing. She asks Splendiano - who also has his sights set on the girl - for help. She wants him to smuggle her among the new "recruits" so that she can appear before Haroun one more time and win his heart. If she should fail, she will give hershelf to Splendiano. Disguised, she dances before Haroun , who buys the graceful stranger. Her amorous deceit moves him profoundly, and he begins to love not only love, byt also his loving mistress.

Musically there aren't any showstoppers here, but everything is very listenable. Lucia Popp (Djamileh) and Franco Bonisolli (Haroun) may not be singers that one would associate with the French repertoire, but for my money they are good enough. Then there is Jean-Philippe Lafont (Splendiano) as a native French speaker, I guess, who manages to be even a bit funny. Everything is admirably conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, who has contributed to so many recordings of lesser known operas. The orchestra (Münchner Rundfunkorchester) and the recording leave nothing to be desired.

Ann Lander (sospiro)
September 22nd, 2012, 03:04 PM
Djamileh preceded Carmen only by three years and premiered after nine years of Les pêcheurs des perles. It's a short work fitting neatly on one CD. Echoes of both operas are immediately recognizable. This is the same Bizet that we know but without the full blast of Carmen.

Thanks Herkku. This sounds interesting.

tyroneslothrop
July 17th, 2013, 10:31 PM
Five best Carmen recordings (http://www.classicalite.com/articles/2048/20130717/classicalites-five-best-carmen-recordings.htm)

Amfortas
July 18th, 2013, 12:45 AM
Five best Carmen recordings (http://www.classicalite.com/articles/2048/20130717/classicalites-five-best-carmen-recordings.htm)

Yay! I've got the best one!

Aramis
July 18th, 2013, 10:55 AM
Five best Carmen recordings (http://www.classicalite.com/articles/2048/20130717/classicalites-five-best-carmen-recordings.htm)

I like when people share competent, well-written and informative articles:


Didn't work. Too heavy, too thick, none of the singers at their best (though Neil Shicoff is still a fine Don José). Jessye Norman was born to not play Carmen. Didn't work, didn't work, didn't work.

Nobody here at OL is even close to being capable of writing such highly refined criticism.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 24th, 2018, 01:49 AM
I placed elsewhere, due to my coverage of Central European houses in the summer of 2018, the 2008 production of Carmen by the Opernhaus Zürich on DVD, with Jonas Kaufmann and Vesselina Kasarova, which is getting a revival that I'll see in person; so in anticipation of it, I reviewed the DVD here:

https://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/3047-Carmen-at-the-Zurich-Opera-House?p=64887&viewfull=1#post64887