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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L'Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle...
I fully agree with Ted Libbey: this marvelous recording can be a perfect introduction to the world of opera. Maestro Von Karajan achieves his trademark perfection with the Berliners and with the cast of ideal singers for Biset's masterpiece. Baltsa is simultaneously playful, witty, self-indulgent, and dangerous Carmen. She has a very long vocal phrase; and what a...
Published on June 28, 1999

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13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful
Herbert von Karajan never understood Bizet's Carmen. This opera was composed for the Opera-Comique with dialogues, not unlike Offenbach's operettas. Karajan conducts an opultent, glossy performance were the drama and style are completely drown. Agnes Baltsa had a great Carmen in her, so she is the great loss of this recording. Carreras is touching and vulnerable, but...
Published on December 23, 1999 by J. Luis Juarez Echenique


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L'Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle..., June 28, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
I fully agree with Ted Libbey: this marvelous recording can be a perfect introduction to the world of opera. Maestro Von Karajan achieves his trademark perfection with the Berliners and with the cast of ideal singers for Biset's masterpiece. Baltsa is simultaneously playful, witty, self-indulgent, and dangerous Carmen. She has a very long vocal phrase; and what a fiery rendition of "Les tringles des sistres tintailent"! Jose Carreras shows Don Jose's character development extremely well, from ardent and passionate, ready-to-leave-everything young soldier to a man obsessed; gradually you begin to believe Don Jose could kill. His Flower Song is very gentle and tender, as opposed to the war-cries often displayed by others. The final scene is so vividly acted, I had "tingles down my spine". Katia Ricciarelli is fully "at home" with a role of angel-like Micaela, her 1st Act duet with Carreras is one of the most beautiful things one could ever hear. Van Dam brings out everything we like to see in Escamillo: single-mindedness, arrogance, and swagger. Karajan uses an interesting orchestral arrangement of the Toreador Song before "Tout d'un coup, on fait silence..." making you imagine the pause just before the bull charges. He also slows it down a bit, increasing the tension throughout and the last chords of it are like wineglasses clashing triumphantly together. Supporting roles are taken by some impressive vocal powers, including Jane Barbie and Gino Quilico. Digital recording and great liner notes made this set more preferable to me than the celebrated Solti set, although that one too has great singing and conducting. Nothing else comes close. Btw, there is a Carmen video featuring Baltsa and Carreras, also from DG, fantastically sang and recorded.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Carmen with a double cast, October 11, 2005
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Accidently I hit the "5 star button" and now I'm unable to edit my error..... I really wish I could give this album 5 stars, but since someone decided to ruin this recording with the use of French actors for the spoken dialogues, I simply can't give more than 4 stars. After having watched Baltsa and Carreras in the Carmen dvd I was excited to find this recording, but listening to it was a devastating experience as I became really disappointed because of the French actors who did nothing else than annoy me. I find it extremely difficult believing that the voices in the spoken dialogues should be the same as that of the singers. The speaking Carmen sounds like a woman who has spent all her life in a "boudoir" doing little else than smoking and drinking which is a stark contrast to the singing Carmen whose voice is as clear as a bell!! And while Don José Carreras melts your heart with his sensual, lyrical voice, the speaking Don José sounds as charming as a wet dishcloth. So why did they decide to let someone else than the singers perform the spoken dialogues? It beats me. It certainly can't be because they thought the singers unable to utter a spoken word. If you watch and listen to the highly recommendable Carmen dvd with Baltsa and Carreras you'll see how well they pull off this task. I have to admit that when listening to this cd I skip the spoken dialogues wherever possible - which means I work my remote control an awful lot. Enough said of this; I just needed to get it out of my system.

The singers in this album are as perfect as you'll ever want them to be. Baltsa is the best Carmen ever in my opinion; both flirtatious and a firework. After hearing her seductive "Pres de ramparts de Seville" it's no wonder Don José is irresistibly drawn to her. Even I have the same reaction to her singing as Don José. For some unknown reason; while I'm listening to the phrase "Mon officier n'est pas un capitaine" I can't stop myself from taking a deep breath of "contentment" (you know, the way you would do if someone declared his undying love for you...) and this is something that never fails to happen whenever I listen to this aria. The strange thing though is that you'll hear Don José doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. The first time I heard this it was almost unbelievable. Listen to this aria and you'll probably understand what I'm talking about.

Ricciarelli's Michaela is the sweetest one I've ever heard. If I was Don José I would really be having a hard time deciding which one of the women to choose. (But of course, no man goes for "sweet" when he can get "steamy hot" instead...) The duets between Michaela and Don José are just as sweet and tender as the duets between Carmen and Don José are full of sensual tension.

The Don José in the voice of Carreras is from my point of view the most perfect one. He can sound like the naÔve and shy young soldier falling madly in love for the first time and also like the madman Don José ends up as in the final act. And speaking of the final act; the last 10-15 minutes of this opera are worth the price of the opera alone. Don José alters between begging and threatening to get Carmen back while Carmen herself refuses everything he says or does. The tension escalates every minute and ends when Don José finally kills Carmen. And I'm getting goose-flesh all over when he's crying "Ma Carmen, adorée". His singing throughout the entire opera is outstanding. I love the duets with Ricciarelli and Baltsa in addition to the famous and wonderful rendition of "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée". This aria ends up like the most gentle and tender love song. Thank you, Carreras and Karajan for that moment!

The rest of the cast are really good as well; we have José van Dam doing a fine job as the toreador Escamillo and Frasquita and Mercédès are portrayed by Christine Barbaux and Jane Berbié. So although the French actors are horrible (with the exception of Michaela) the singers make it worthwhile.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Karajan's 2nd Carmen: His Best. Powerful!!!!, March 8, 2006
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Agnes Baltsa [Carmen] ** José Carreras [Don José] ** José van Dam (baritone) [Escamillo] ** Katia Ricciarelli [MicaŽla] ** Christine Barbaux (soprano) [Frasquita] ** Jane Berbié (soprano) [Mercédès] ** Alexander Malta (bass) [Zuniga] ** Mikael Melbye (baritone) [Moralès] ** Gino Quilico (baritone) [Le DancaÔr] ** Heinz Zednik (tenor) [Le Remendado] ** Michel Marinpouille (tenor) [Andrès] ** Berlin Philharmonic ** Herbert von Karajan (conductor]

There is no doubt in my mind that this studio recording is by far the most powerful Carmen I've ever heard. This 80's recording captures both the lush, beautiful musicality of this opera-comique and the intense visceral "verisimo" drama, thanks to the efforts of Karajan and his illustrious Berlin forces and the great singing from Agnes Baltsa, Jose Carreras, Katia Ricciarelli and Jose Van Dam.

Karajan had previously recorded Carmen in the 70's, in a more dramatic, overblown fashion when he conducted the Vienna Phil with the voices of Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli. Although that recording has its individual merit, it was not really his best effort. He had scored greater success with Grace Bumbry in the lead role and Jon Vickers as Don Jose, productions he conducted at the Salzburg Festival in the late 60's. In the 80's he was a white-haired old man, the image many younger music lovers remember him from after seeing videos and recording covers he was in fact experiencing the last phase of his career before his death in the late 80's. He is nevertheless a supremely gifted conductor, masterful and able to bring out the best from his orchestra. The Berlin is actually better than the Vienna Phil in his earlier recording with Leontyne Price. The Berlin forces weave great music, capturing the colorful slices of life in this steamy, sordid opera. Yes, it is of the "grand opera" and verisimo vein and not the more simplistic, opera-comique Carmen but it is absolutely powerful in its wake. Karajan has never done a better job. It is his second recorded Carmen and his best.

Each of the singers bring a vitality and nuance to their performance and sing with the freshness of their prime. It is not surprising to find Jose Carreras and Katia Ricciarelli in the same cast. Theses two worked well together and recorded and performed operas throughout the 80's, even carrying out an affair together. Ricciarelli and Carreras as Don Jose and Micaela sing with glorious harmony, making their romance all the more tragic because Don Jose rejects the purity of her love and destroys himself in his passionate relationship with the temptress Carmen. Their duet in the beginning feels prolonged but that's a great thing because their voices are so beautiful to hear together.

From the beginning, Jose Carreras sings with a darker voice. He understands that Don Jose becomes obscessed with Carmen and develops a psychosis. It is a rich, powerful and masculine voice, albeit darker and edgier than even Jon Vickers and Placido Domingo. He sings everyting with great passion, despite the fact that his voice may not have done what he may have wanted it to. He is somehow, strangely, through sheer force of will, the best Don Jose, the most dramatically satisfying. His detractors and critics claim he was in bad vocal shape, at least in regards to his age (he was past his prime, he had been operated for leukemia, etc) and worse, his Don Jose has been called "melodramatic, hysterical". I whole-heartedly disagree. Carreras sings with so much integrity to the character's essence that he single-handedly blows all other contenders away. I've heard them all- Franco Corelli (in the Leontyne Price recording) Placido Domingo (in the Berganza recording and the Obraztsova, and Migenes movies) and Jon Vickers (in the recording and film with Grace Bumbry). His tenor voice is right on target for the darker side of Don Jose. He is passionate, yet lyrical in the first part and by the climatic finale he is understandably pushed to the edge. There is definate chemistry between Carreras and Baltsa and they would also make a film of the Metropolitan Opera stage production, which is wonderful. Please give Carreras a chance. He is the best Don Jose I've ever heard.

Ricciarelli is a very nuanced, soulful Micaela, bringing passion and grandeur to the role, instead of singing the role like a shrinking violet. This Micaela is willing to fight to get her man back from Carmen. In this way, she is a lot like Mirella Freni, who also sang a feistier Micaela. Ricciarelli is in great vocal form, and her rendition of "Je Dis" is beautiful and heart-felt. Those who have criticized her for what they feel is forced singing didn't really listen to the recording. She is mannered, she is mellow and in control. She has a genuinely dramatic way of singing, but then again, I've already made the comparison to Mirella Freni, whose Micaela is also dramatic. Quite frankly, this is the way Micaela should be sung. She is still a soprano, usually the lead in an opera and Ricciarelli understands that if she doesn't impress in the few moments she has in the opera, then she is letting the mezzo-soprano take all the glory. Ricciarelli is wonderful here and Micaela is one of her greatest roles, despite the fact she moved on to sing heavier roles like Tosca, Leonora, Aida and Turandot. She is probably better in the subdued lyrical roles then the heavier roles.

Jose Van Dam's Escamillo is dark, "butch" and strongly sung. He has a sharp musical intelligence and recognizes that Escamillo is also not the star but has his moments of radiance. He sings the famous Toreador Aria with great gusto and power. Karajan's slow conducting and colorful orchestration allows his few moments in the opera to really burst with maximum energy. Upon hearing Jose Van Dam's Escamillo, one can understand why Carmen jilts the now lackluster Don Jose. Van Dam is absolutely superb.

Last but certainly not least, there is Agnes Baltsa's Carmen. She was born to sing this role. It is a Carmen of several levels- she is playful (listen to how she slides her voice in the Habanera and Seguidilla) she is feminine but wordly. If she sounds mature and not youthful this is still to her credit. Carmen is a wordly, experienced libertine. Baltsa lives the character in ever scene. She sings with great power and beauty. The Death Card Aria has a tragic quality to it and she sings with a resigned spirit, acknowledging her fate. More than any other mezzo-soprano who has sung Carmen on record, to my knowledge, she really acts the hell out of that final scene. She is singing with grand flair, dramatic to the point she is boiling over with rage. Listen to how she emotes when she declares "Libre Elle Nee e Libre elle Morra" (I was born free and I shall die free!) and "E Bien! Frappe-Moi Donc, Or Lassez Ma Passe! (Very Well Then! Kill Me! Or Let Me Pass!). Finally, she nearly cracks her voice with the high, anguished cry of "C'este Autefrois Que Tu Me Vais Donne - TIENS!!!" (This ring you once gave me - TAKE IT!!!). Both Carreras and Baltsa take the trophy when it comes to dramatically belting out this famous scene in opera.

Once upon a time I thought that Jon Vickers and Grace Bumbry were the greatest Carmen/Don Jose interpretors. I don't believe that anymore after hearing Jose Carreras and Agnes Baltsa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars -- despite all my peeves, it works!, April 3, 2014
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Peeves first: (1) DGG does their usual substitution of actors for singers to do the spoken parts in Singspielen. The actors are fine -- they're alive to the drama, but they are in different aural space from the singers and they don't much sound like the singers. (2) Katia Ricciarrelli is disappointing as Micaela -- singing obviously carefully, but when some volume is called for on the higher notes, she wobbles noticeably. (3) Karajan can be a bit heavy and unsubtle -- the accenting around the Toreador Song is just leaden. In his defense, he does a nice job with some ensembles, especially the "fight scene" in Act 1. (4) The sound isn't as airy as Abbado's 1977 account, and it's less warm than Karajan's own 1962 account -- but it isn't bad, and (. . . leaving the peeves now) . . . the drama is engaged in a way that it wasn't in 1962. We don't have the Guiraud recitatives, and the singers are more dramatically alert, so, with apologies to Corelli, Price et. al., I prefer this one.

In the main parts, Van Dam is the best Escamillo I've heard -- so maybe a fluency in French really does count. Milnes and Merrill were good, but Van Dam just seems less stressed. As for Carreras, one wishes he had recorded this four years earlier, when his Verdi and Puccini singing for Philips was extraordinarily beautiful and dramatically alive (try "I Due Foscari"). By 1983, the voice is bit less secure, and it's heavier, but his dramatic instincts are still good, and he's is engaging to hear as Jose. If he's a bit rough in spots, well . . . Jose is in a tough situation . . . And Baltsa sings with security and passion as Carmen. She's a bit grimmer than Berganza, and (unlike Price) the voice as voice doesn't blow you away, but there's plenty of intensity and attention to the details of the dramatic situations. So, somewhat to my surprise, I find this recommendable! All three Carmens I know bring something to the table -- Price, Baltsa, and Berganza. Overall, I like the Abbado/Berganza best, but it's a close thing -- and I haven't yet heard Solti and Troyanos.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars one of the best, September 17, 2003
By 
"montecastello" (Dardanelle, Arkansas United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Robert Levine's harsh criticism of this recording left me surpised and then, when he closed by recommending the famously awful Callas recording, simply laughing out loud (Callas overacting, vocally falling apart, and a profoundly dull conductor all working in a dry acoustic, etc.) Can you imagine a straight Don Jose pursuing that shrill termagant out of desire?
As for this recording, yes, Karajan does get the maximum value out of the work--his careful revelation of the gorgeous orchestration for instance--but since when has this been a vice? Moreover, Baltsa is one of the greatest Carmens of recent decades. Normally one has to choose in Carmens: either power or sensuality. Baltsa, however, can provide both. Her earthy Carmen has both great vocal power and an unmistakable eroticism. As in all of her work under Karajan, she sings with grace and imagination as well as drama. I concur in Levine's reservations about the Jose. Carreras isn't in his real vocal decline here however, though he isn't very satisfactory nonetheless. The trouble isn't his voice, but what he does with it. Carreras, gifted with such a lovely lyric tenor voice, insisted on using it as if it were a spinto; here it results in lovely passages interrupted by virtual roaring and barking. If he had been perhaps truer to Karajan's conception of the opera, with an emphasis on delicacy and sensuality, he might have made an interesting lyric Jose. But, no, he wants to compete with the big boys. So while some phrases of the Flower Song here are ravishing other phrases are as bad as Carreras has ever sung. To an extent, the problem is inherent in the role of Jose: overall a square, virile, sentimental village macho who gets in over his head and cracks up, except for the presence of his big aria which is as subtle and poetic as any aria in the repetoire--suddenly this big ox is a poet! Only Corelli (yes, Corelli, of all people) has successfully made dramatic sense of the aria in the context of the rest of the character (was he playing himself?) The dreamy rhapsody of the aria became one more step toward madness and the breakdown of the character. Finally, Ricciarelli isn't "forcing" at all to my ears; she sounds especially beautiful and poised and better than most of her competitors in this role.
The big drawback of this recording remains the decision to use French actors for all the dialogue: it isn't the different acoustic that makes it unlistenable, but the near impossibilty of imagining that these speaking voices belong to the corresponding singers.
In short, buy this for Karajan's revelatory conducting and the presence of one of the most vocally apt Carmens we've had (even if her French is suspect!).
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Carmen, May 27, 2004
By 
Emma de Soleil "I moved to the UK for another... (On a holiday In Ibiza, then back to the UK for studies) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
This is one of my favourite Carmens forever. While Baltsa may not be as fluent or idiomatic in the French style as lets say de los Angeles or Beatrice Uria-Monzon, her steamy hot mezzo will thrill you incredibly. There is a sensous, exciting glow in this seductive, dark timbre and Baltsa's unique vocal colour is as thrilling as Maria Callas' version of the fiery gypsy. Baltsa once stated that, after seeing Callas as Norma, she was proud to be a Greek singer (She saw Callas as Norma in her famous Normas in Epidaurus), she won a Callas-stipendium and became one of the greatest Cherubinos ever. Her switch to more dramatic roles like Carmen and Eboli is very interesting. This Carmen is sensual, flirtatious, brutally honest and incredibly hot. José Carreras was Baltsa's favourite partner, she preferred him over all the other Don Josés she sang with. His meltingly beautiful, dark and yet honeyed timbre is made for the dreamy, passionate and besotted Don José.
I for one don't mind von Karajan's bombastic orchestration and tempi here, I think it's very appropriate. I absolutely love this recording and I'm sure you'll never regret buying it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best but better than most, May 11, 2003
By 
New Waver "grhk" (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
I must first specify that I am not an opera fan. However, Carmen is a category-killer that transcends the genre. Abbado's version (1977) is a work of such brilliance that it is hard to imagine it ever being surpassed. But this Karajan is easily the equal of the next two most-often-mentioned bests, Beecham's 1958/9 version and Solti's 1975 effort. If you only buy one, make it Abbado; but Carmen is a hard habit to break, and this version makes a pleasant variation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful performance and amazingly clear recording, April 13, 2014
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This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (3 CD's) (MP3 Music)
I'm always amazed when I hear recordings of performances that knock my socks off. This recording has a great balance between the opera and the dialog parts of the performance. The singing and music is crisp, dynamic, and mesmerizing. The dialog is jovial, sincere, and cruel at times. Very moving. If you are just starting to listen to great performances, this is one of them. Enjoy!
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4.0 out of 5 stars great-sounding recording, July 6, 2010
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This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Beautifully played but lacks dramatic cohesiveness. I think Carreras makes a fine Don Jose. He has a good handle on the character and he is quite desperate in the last act. Comparable to Vickers and Jonas Kaufmann who I have seen live and on DVD.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L'amour et enfant de Bohème, il n'a jamais connu de loi., March 24, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Carmen (Audio CD)
Herbert von Karajan's is a terrific recording of this unforgetable opera (but how it is unforgetable is that you keep hearing it after you have stoped playing it and so you have to listen to it again, and again) and everyone involved performed extremely well. Agnes Baltsa's 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle' is undeniably beautiful as well as exciting, José van Dam's 'Tout un coup, on fait silence' is suspenseful, and José van Dam's 'La fleur que tu m'avais jetée' is truly moving and meaningful. Highly recommended!!
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Carmen
Carmen by Georges Bizet (Audio CD - 1983)
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