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Georges Bizet: Carmen (Complete Recording)
Robert Merrill
Georges Bizet: Carmen (Complete Recording)
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #3

Most well-rounded conductors learn their craft in the theater pit, so it's odd that some of the greatest--such as George Szell and Bruno Walter--never made commercial recordings of complete operas. At least Fritz Reiner ma...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Robert Merrill
Title: Georges Bizet: Carmen (Complete Recording)
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: The RCA Victor Opera Series
Release Date: 10/25/1990
Album Type: Box set
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaCD Credits: 3
UPC: 078635798128

Synopsis essential recording
Most well-rounded conductors learn their craft in the theater pit, so it's odd that some of the greatest--such as George Szell and Bruno Walter--never made commercial recordings of complete operas. At least Fritz Reiner made one: his 1953 Carmen. The mono engineeering, if a little dry, has a crackling immediacy that mirrors Reiner's regimented but never rigid shaping of Bizet's ceaselessly inventive score, given with the once de rigeur Choudens recitatives, along with ballet music from La Jolie Fille de Perth and L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2 popping up in Act 4 for good measure. Risë Stevens shines in the title role, and her lover-turned-nemesis Don José is sung with big-toned eloquence (and better French than he was credited for!) by Jan Peerce. Robert Merrill's virile Escamillo proves a fresher portrayal than the singer's remake a decade later under Karajan. Though a bit past her prime, Licia Albanese elevates Micaela from fifth-wheel status to a strong, supportive role. For Bizet's original text and updated sonics, Solti's incisive leadership best reflects Reiner's tight-reigned sensibility. If mono and textual vagaries don't matter, the firm yet vivid baton of Fritz Reiner makes a cogent case for Carmen as grand opera. Classic stuff. --Jed Distler

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CD Reviews

lesismore26 | Chicago, Illinois USA | 12/17/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I love this 1951 RCA recording of "Carmen" for the type of performane it is. This was the first recording of this opera that I ever heard, and I've kept returning to it time and time again. To be sure, it is not the "french" and "authentic" reading which has become fashionable in recent years (in which one can hear most if not all of the original "opera comique" dialogue). Nor does it even have much Gallic atmosphere. What it does have, however, is a conductor and cast that sets the opera before us as it used to be performed before the opera comique version came into vogue. This is a "grand opera" Carmen, completely sans the dialogue, and conducted by Fritz Reiner in a bold and grand manner. His is not a subtle performance ---- quite the contrary ----- the whole thing comes off as something resembling a spectacular Broadway show, but the results are entirely enjoyable and fun. Rise Stevens virtually owned the role of Carmen during her Metropolitan Opera career (which spanned close to two decades), and what she accomplishes here is a good representation of her Carmen during her palmiest vocal period. An attractive and extremely intelligent artist with a fine lyric mezzo-soprano voice, Stevens lays what she has on the line and throws it right in your face. Her Carmen is alert, flighty, sexy, and sometimes rather nasty ---- a traditional interpretation, but one that still holds up. She does not have the charm and elegance of Victoria de los Angeles or Teresa Berganza, but for the artist she was for her time, her approach was accepted as the correct one. Jan Peerce had a solid and reliable tenor, albeit sometimes nasal in quality, and his Don Jose had real temperment (though admittedly, his particular type of temperment was more reminiscent of the Italian style as opposed to the French). Licia Albanese is a vivid and compelling Michaela, one who sounds truly frightened out of her wits in the third act. Robert Merrill is a strong and youthful Escamillo. The supporting cast is fine. The digitally remastered sound gives new presence and sheen to the original tapes, making it perfectly acceptable to hear. I cherish this recording for the type of style it represents. All the hit tunes are here, and all are sung with guts and grit. This performance makes no pretenses -- it is what it is ----- but it works, and it's a lot of fun to listen to. For whatever it is, I love it as much as ever. What more can I say?"
L. Mitnick | Chicago, Illinois United States | 10/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A lot of people look for different things in Carmen. I know that this recording has zero French atmosphere, and virtually no Gallic feeling to it. I also know that a lot of subsequent Carmen recordings have these very elements that make "Carmen" truly a French opera. I am aware of such great recorded Carmens as Berganza, Troyanos, Callas, Price, de los Angeles, Gheorghiu ---- very few of whom actually performed Carmen on the actual stage. Rise Stevens, however, most emphatically made the role her own at the Met during the 1950's, and no one has really owned it since. Stevens' lyric mezzo soprano was beautifully colored, and she had the benefit of Tyrone Guthrie's "Carmen" stage direction at the Met in the early 1950's. All of this is evident on this recording, where there are moments when one thinks that Carmen is about to jump out of your speakers into your listening room. Jan Peerce is considerably less idiomatic as Don Jose, but his singing is strong, straight-forward, and always secure. He and Stevens bring off one helluva death scene at the end of the opera. Licia Albanese and Robert Merrill provide strong support in two rather thankless roles. Finally, it is Fritz Reiner who makes this recording so memorable. He paces it urgently and compellingly, if without the delicate inflections of Beecham or Cluytens. My dad bought this performance when I was a kid, and I've become so used to hearing "Carmen" done this way (which certainly isn't the only way!) that I guess I'm kind of a lost cause where new recordings this opera are concerned."
The Great Carmen
Kelly J. Martino | 03/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I envy the others who have posted reviews. I have known Carmen since childhood. In fact I had a two album complete recording on RCA in Italian. I have had many Carmens but never knew this one until recently. Those who grew up with it are lucky. While all of the singing, except Albanese, is remarkable, it is Reiner who is the great hero here. For those who do not know the history, Carmen was first successful in German in Vienna. This not a French Carmen; it is a traditional Carmen as it was best known. I suspect what makes this recording so great is its" Germaness." I find that since I got I cannot put it away. And I thought I would never be able to get through a Carmen t again. Stevens is Carmen and whatever quibbles people have about Peerce's Don José it is the best one I know. Albanese's horrible voice at least presents something unique to the role, a sense of true horror! I don't like this Carmen; I love it!"