The Best of Carmen
Jack Rogers | Massachusetts, United States | 09/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This CD is an opportunity to enjoy--at a rock-bottom price--a star-studded, top-caliber Metropolitan Opera performance of this most-popular opera from that company's robust, mid-20th-century era. At a generous length of one hour 18 minutes, the CD represents well over half of the complete opera's content.
All of the principals were leading Met figures. In the title role is mezzo Rise Stevens, who could seduce or cut with her voice to a perfected finality (and could act as well) - she had made the role her own renowned turf there in the 1940s and '50s. The others were also front-rank figures at the Met: Jan Peerce as Don Jose, Licia Albanese as Micaela, and Robert Merrill as Escamillo the toreador. The performance is led by that tyrant-genius of the baton, Fritz Reiner, who two years later would ascend to the podium of the Chicago Symphony to guide that orchestra to its legendary, world-class standing. The entire production was part of a revival of Carmen that was to take place on the Met stage only months later.
The monaural RCA Victor recording of 1951, which represents a historical moment only shortly before the early preparations of RCA's "Living Stereo" era, in this Prism reissue delivers surprisingly good sound, largely rendering the lack of stereo not a serious concern. (Unfortunately, the caveat must be inserted here that a certain annoying shrillness is experienced at uppermost registers and at stressful points of tutti outburst, but a partial roll-off of the treble control will handle that pretty well. Also, a strange oscillating hiss is heard in a few early tracks after the prelude on my copy. It may be suggested that a rather more painstaking re-mastering/transfer process would have been useful - but perhaps that complaint must be measured against the bargain price.) Good notes outlining the story's action and listing all of the selections is included.
All in all, this is an outstanding performance (once considered a standard), presented in an abridged form that delivers far more than the usual "pop" numbers and at a price that can hurt no one's budget. I, for one, was very happy to find it once again available.
-- Jack Rogers"