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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leonard Bernstein and Marilyn Horne: Carmen


One of our wonderful, tatty second hand bookshops in the neighborhood yielded a $2 copy of 'The Carmen chronicle' by Harvey E. Philips. The book was published nearly forty years ago (!) and the chronicle is a play by play of rehearsals for a new staging of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in 1973. The production was to have been by Goran Gentele, the newly named General Manager of the Met, but he and two of his daughters were killed in a car wreck in the summer of 73. Carmen and the Met had to go on without him., Bodo Igez staged the show. Cast and conductor didn't change (except for Teresa Stratas, who withdrew as Micaela and was replaced by Adriana Maliponte): James McCracken, Tom Krause and the sensational Marilyn Horne as Carmen. Leonard Bernstein conducted. The production was recorded by DGG and became a huge seller (for an opera). Critics loved or hated it. The production was a sellout at the Met and the recoding flew, really flew off the shelves. That was in the days they had record stores. Look it up if you're under twenty.

The Bernstein-Horne Met Carmen recording became favorite guilty pleasure of critics and nudniks. It was too slow. too ponderous. too German. Horne was tough. Great voice yes, but no charm. Well, I'm hear to tell you: I've been listening again after thirty years and I love this recording. It's all drama and color and flair and character. Horne's Carmen is an animal: adorable and tough. McCracken's voice is an acquired taste I acquired years ago. He's a huge, strong man reduced to mush by Carmen and hates himself forever. And any recording that has Donald Gramm, the wonderful artist as Zuniga in luxury casting is okay with me. Bernstein's tempi may be slow(er) but he makes you, compels you, to hear every note of the music, and there's no separation between 'pure' music and the drama. The entr'actes, where some separation is expected, glower with meaning. The spoken dialogue is rather arch and can be off putting (skip it if you must) The singing -and it really is SINGING with all the drama is not. I'm not throwing away my Beecham or Reiner or any other Carmens, but I'm so glad to have this one again. It's like walking into the arms of a beloved friend after many years.

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