Monday, August 27, 2012

rattle and hum

I read this review of a new recording by Sir Simon Rattle & the Berlin Philharmonic of Bizet's Carmen the other day; with a weekend of driving ahead of me, and noticing that it was available on iTunes at the bargain price of £10, I downloaded it to my Mac & then onto my iPhone ready for the journey.

(I was travelling to the wedding of good friends - what could be better than a cautionary tale of falling for the wrong woman, betrayal, lust & murder, all set to some of the best tunes known to humanity?)

There are a fair number of great recordings of Carmen around. Three things sell this one: at £10 on iTunes it's a budget price for a brand new recording with star performers. The EMI acoustic is what you'd expect - lots of 'bloom', but also some real detail, and actually I found it worked especially well in the car (better than on my home system, strangely). Second, Jonas Kaufmann is simply superb. His baritonal tenor at times feels deeper than you know the part actually is, and then he reaches up and thrills you with some glorious top register notes. Fantastic, grin-inducing singing. I've never seen Kaufmann 'live'; clearly I've missed out. I love the Alagna recording (always at his best in French), but Kaufmann is right up there with him. Finally, and this is the real winner, Rattle & the Berlin Philharmonic are stunning. I'm not always a fan of symphony orchestras pretending to be pit bands. They usually have the wrong sound for opera. But this works. Big time. From start to finish - perhaps especially the finish; Act Four is wonderful.

I enjoyed the current Lady Rattle as Carmen. Some of the reviews are a bit sniffy; different people want different things I guess. For me, Carmen will always sound in my mind's ear like Julia Migenes, and I guess we all come expecting certain moments to sound in certain ways. It's that kind of opera. Magdalena Kozena for me didn't always maintain the passion level - though much of the time I was totally sold. The Micaela of Genia Kuehmeier is constantly beautiful, and again I see why some of the reviews particularly pick her out for praise.  

Driving from Leeds to Kendal, and then back, I had a great time following the tragedy as it unfolded. I thoroughly commend this recording to you. There are other great recordings of this work out there, but this should disappoint very few. The CD is more expensive than the download. But if you don't own a Carmen - this is not a bad place to start.

(And as for the wedding I attended - it went very well, and unlike the Opera, there was lots of dancing but no-one was murdered as far as I could see!)

Just a final note: as I downloaded it onto the Mac first, when it copied onto the iPhone, it made a mess of it & didn't separate into different CDs, so the track listings got confused & mixed the Acts up. This is not good for an opera recording. Or any classical recording. I sorted this by creating playlists from my Mac. If there's another way of avoiding this, I'd be happy to receive tips!

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