Two Carmens: Anna Caterina Antonacci & Lily Djanel

Two Carmens:  Anna Caterina Antonacci & Lily Djanel

We have already covered a Carmen here on Classical Explorer: a live performance from Strasbourg, conducted by Aziz Shokhakimov with Elena Maximova in the title role. Here are two more, with teh emphasis on the first:

Anna Caterina Antonaci is one of the great Carmens. She is all woman, carrying a huge presence and a voice to match. Here's one of the most famous passages in the entire score, the Habanera, this taken from a live concert pefrormance to give a hint of what she can achieve:

... and if you like that, you'll love this - excerpts from the staged opera on Naos, including bit sof the the decidedly raunchy Habanera in Adrian Noble's staging:

Antonacci really makes me feel I never need to hear or see another Carmen ever again - even Garanca, and that's saying something. Andreew Richards is a fine Don José, if not one for the ages - my problem with this pefrormance vocally is Nicolas Chevallier's Escamillo, a stand-and-delivert toreador whose acting stands in direct opposition to Antonacci's - cardboard and unengaging. Anne-Catherine Gillet is excellent as Micaela in the first act, although she sounds less secure later on.

Gardiner uses his period instrument orchestra, Orchestre Récolutionnaire et Romantique, to reveal  myriad detail and achieve a real, and appropriate, rawness, while achieveing luminosity and tenerness elsewhere. The production is traditional, with uniforms, cigarettes and cigars, and brawn/sepia tones. The production features dialogies as opposed to recitative, and includes the act one “Scène d'Anglais”.

This is a composite of two performances from Jumne 2009 (it was originally released in 2010 on the FRA Musical label, which indluded interviews whereas teh Naxos does not). But I would not be without this performance. Gardiner moves the piece along well, allowing for ebb and flow but always with the goal in muind. François Roussillon's film direction is senseitve and confident.

I do want to draw attention to two more related releases, one an historical recording, the other a book. The recording is a sound-only Carmen conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, with Metropolitan Opera new York forces caught on tour at Chicago's Civic Opera House on March 2, 1943. The Pristine Audio transfer is excellent (there is another transfer on Amazon I haven't heard that is going for £52.88 new and £48.98 used, so an average of £50 - it appears to be a German pressing and transfer). The Pristine Audio goes for a variety of pricces via this link on their website: 20 Euros on twofer (which is what I auditioned); downloads vary in price depending on format, from 14 Euros for MP3 (320 kbps) to  30 Euros for an ambient stereo FLAC, 24-bit. The spirit of the performance is terrific, as one might expect from Beecham, and the cast includes the rimarkable Leonard Warren as Escamillo, the luxury casting of Licia Albanese as Micaëla. The Carmen and Don José are both French-speaking: the Belgian-born Lily Djanel and the French-Canadian tenor Raoul Jobin. The entire performance is a joy.

Secondly is the book  on Carmen in the Overture Opera Guides series (in associiation with ENO). This is a revamping of the old ENO Opera Guides (much loved in their day!). The present volume includes essays by Richard Langham-Smith, Lesley A. Wright, George Hall and Gary Kahn (who is also Series Editor), plus select discography, Carmen on DVD, select bibliography, Bizet websites, plus full text and translation (376 pp in all).

Put all of these tpgether and you'd have a treasure-trove around Carmen. With the information in teh book and the two performances, it's a fair bet you'd look at Bizet's masterpiece in a new light. Too often trvilaised because of its popular tunes, Carmen is a major opera of huge depth.