Before I saw this 1967 Carmen, my favourite was the 1984 film with Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes-Johnson. After seeing this, although that will always have a special place in my heart, I think I just found my favourite Carmen. I saw it because I adore Mirella Freni, am very fond of Jon Vickers and after seeing her Eboli from Don Carlo I am starting to be quite taken with Grace Bumbry. And of course, Herbert Von Karajan is one of my favourite conductors ever.
This Carmen is just wonderful. Carmen I have always considered THE French opera, though I quite like Faust too, the music is magnificent, the story always compelling and the titular character is one of the most memorable titular characters in opera to me. What I did prefer over the 1984 film was Carmen's death scene here, I personally found it more powerful and Bumbry's performance during the fortune telling scene ranks among the best of that particular scene.
The costumes, settings and photography are truly excellent, very sumptuous, and stay true to the story and tone of the opera. The lip-synching is also done very well, and the sound and orchestra(with plenty of Spanish flavour to accompany the score) are first-rate. Karajan does a superb job conducting, the Card Trio was goose bump-inducing and Karajan's conducting and how well and characteristically the orchestra played are the main reasons why.
The singing and performances are better than I could have hoped. Best is Grace Bumbry, who is brilliant as Carmen. While she has a rich and flexible mezzo soprano voice, it was her acting that made the performance so good. She is everything Carmen should be like- attractive, flirtatious, sexy, playful, witty yet also subtle and nuanced, the latter two of which I don't always see whenever I see Carmen. Jon Vickers becomes the character of Don Jose, the acting as is always the case with Vickers-as I have said many times about him and Placido Domingo is that he doesn't just play the character he performs, he becomes the character-is outstanding and his big and I agree booming voice is put to very ideal use, plus he manages to do something special with the Flower Song with a very striking pianissimo where you least expect it.
Mirella Freni is one of my favourite sopranos, perhaps even my favourite, while I have seen several very poignant performances in the role of Micaela it has just occurred to me that compared to the other characters in the opera that Micaela is rather flat. Freni sings absolutely beautifully with perhaps the best musicality of anybody in this role, acts a dream and is very alluring, but what sets Freni's Micaela out from the other Micaelas I've seen is that somehow Micaela is not as flat as she can be and I can't quite put my finger on why that is. What just stood out for me was that not only is Freni one of the best Micaelas in my opinion but also one of the most interesting.
Mercedes, Frasquita and Zuniga are all performed adeptly, but other than the three leads I was also impressed with a young Justino Diaz(who I first encountered as a very credible Iago in the 1986 Zeffirelli film Otello) as bullfighter Escamillo. He is both commanding and handsome, and he sings the Toreador's Song very well, if not quite in the same league of those of Samuel Ramey, Lawrence Tibbett, Ruggero Raimondi and Jose Vam Dam. All in all, wonderful and my favourite Carmen as of now. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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