BIZET Carmen – Jordan
Glyndebourne’s summer 2002 Carmen was memorable for bringing Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter away from her habitual Oktavians and other Monteverdi and Handel trouser roles into boisterous, feminine acting with rather different vocal demands. This ‘soundtrack’, cleanly recorded by the house’s famous on-the-spot man John Barnes, appears a decade after a BBC TV transmission (and later an Opus Arte DVD – 4/03) were made available.
The release allows the listener to focus on the way that von Otter vocalised a part that may not have been thought a natural fit, especially on her selection of vocal colours and taste in what one may call ‘roughing up’ the voice to achieve credibility as the Andalusian gypsy. Her achievement also can be heard in her use of the top of the voice (as bell-like clean as many soprano interpreters), attention to dynamics and use of time and colour in the recitatives (not to mention when speaking). She also works closely with Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan (his UK debut), a maestro already attentive to the ebb and flow of sung drama.
The ladies also have it in the remainder of the casting. Mary Hegarty and Christine Rice are as sparky and accurate a gypsy pair as you’ll find since Solti’s Norma Burrowes and Jane Berbié (Decca, 9/85), while Lisa Milne’s Micaëla is an ideal mixture of youth and (for the Act 3 aria, which often decides casting choice) vocal weight. The comprimarii men are not short of British character (Hayes, Judson, Best). Haddock’s José packs quite a vocal punch – and loves his top notes – but both he and Naouri’s Escamillo (vocally on the ‘comique’ side but a fearless negotiator of his Act 2 aria’s unsingable tessitura) sound like they’re indulging themselves in a way that their sisters here don’t, and neither is a great judge of time in the many recitative-like passages.
Top-class chorus work (Tecwyn Evans), the beauty and sheer musicality of von Otter’s singing (while never lacking bite), the women and Jordan’s instinctive-sounding pacing of a very full edition make this new/old Carmen one of the serious choices in a crowded field where an ensemble accustomed to each other will always have the edge over drop-in star casting in the studio.